A bishop from the Brooklyn Diocese is in Cuba for Pope Francis' visit to the island nation. As he told NY1's Jeanine Ramirez, it's a deeply personal journey. She filed this report.
When Pope John Paul the second made a historic trip to Cuba in 1998, Bishop Octavio Cisneros was with him. It was a homecoming of sorts; he left the Island soon after Fidel Castro's communist revolution.
"The Castro government decided to take over the schools. And 14 thousand parents decided to send their children out of Cuba so they would not be indoctrinated into communism but they would find freedom. and so I was one of those children," Cisneros says.
His parents were not granted visas to leave, and so Cisneros ended up in a Michigan orphanage. He decided to become a priest after finishing high school.
"I entered the seminary in Wisconsin—St. Lawrence. I was there for three years always with the idea of going back to Cuba," Cisneros says.
Cisneros eventually found a new home in the Brooklyn Diocese working at St. Michael's Church, however, on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park. He was ordained a Bishop in 2006.
"After 25 years, I was given permission to enter Cuba through the visit of Cardinal O'Connor," says Cisneros.
That was 1986. Cisneros' mother was no longer alive, but he reunited with his father.
"Can you imagine? To see your family, to see your father, my sister, after all these years and to get to know them again," he says.
Cisneros is in Cuba again, his fourth visit back. This time, it's for Pope Francis' trip.
"It's a wonderful experience to realize that the vicar of Christ is touching the soil where you were born," he says.
He says while the trip to Cuba is brief, he hopes the impact is longlasting.
"It's a sign of hope. For over 50 years, religion has been downgraded and eliminated. So now we begin to bring about a realization that God is present in our lives," Cisneros says.
Cisneros says confirmation of that faith will spread a message of peace, justice and freedom—religious and political.