When he learned that a Pope would visit his city for the first time, Manuel Alejandro Rodríguez Yong dreamed of getting a white zucchetto to exchange with Pope Francis.
Yong not only achieved that dream but was also able to experience the “tenderness of God” in the embrace the Pope gave him, he said.
Yong, 25, is a photographer for the Diocese of Holguín, and he studies film at the International School of Film and Television in San Antonio de los Baños, some 20 miles southwest of Havana.
On the morning of Sept. 21, when Pope Francis arrived at Revolution Square in Holguín to say Mass, Yong knew his moment had arrived. With a great deal of effort he managed to have the Pope see the zucchetto, which he had gotten through a friend, he held in his hand.
“Ever since I found out about the arrival of Pope Francis I wanted to have the opportunity of having a zucchetto in order to follow in this tradition of being able to exchange it with the Pope. Thank God a friend could give me one, and since the Pope was close, I could exchange it and also give him a hug,” he told CNA.
Yong got close to the popemobile to exchange zucchettos with the Pope, and asked if he could hug him. As a response, the Pope opened his arms and told him: “of course!”
“To hug him was like a caress from God. Like the hug of the pastor who is open to welcoming each of his children, no matter where they come from or who they are. I think that Francis’ hug made me feel the tenderness of God this morning. It’s really a huge blessing for which I’m totally grateful,” he said.
Yong won’t keep the zucchetto for himself but will talk to Bishop Emilio Aranguren Echeverría of Holguín “to see what we will do with it, because I think it would be very selfish of me to keep it.”
“For now it will be with me, but I hope that there is a place in the diocese where it can be visible as a sign of the presence and passage of Francis in this land.”
Yong said that for Cubans, the Pope’s visit is “above all to confirm us in the faith.” He added that the people of Holguín are “very proud of their city and that he (the Pope) made this visit, and we are proud to live in this land.”
By María Ximena Rondón