Pope Francis arrives in Cuba for historic visit

Last Updated Sep 19, 2015 8:49 PM EDT

HAVANA -- Pope Francis landed in Havana Saturday afternoon, launching a historic 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States after serving as secret mediator of the historic rapprochement between the former Cold War foes.

Cuban President Raul Castro was at the airport to welcome the pontiff, who will be offering a show of solidarity with Cubans and delivering a message in the United States that Hispanics are the bedrock of the American church.

Francis hailed detente between the U.S. and Cuba as a model of reconciliation. He urged Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to continue working to build normal ties as the pontiff begins a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes.

Francis served as mediator for the resumption of diplomatic relations this year. He says, "I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities."

Francis calls the negotiations that led to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington "an example of reconciliation for the entire world."

This is the pope's first visit to either country. Vatican officials say he will bring both a religious and a political message.

The pope will celebrate Sunday Mass from a stage in Havana's Revolution Square. There are 35,000 seats just for special guests, but lead architect Luis Perez Coello expects thousands more, CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz reports.

"Francis is the first Latin American pope, and he's played a role in this historic moment," Coello told CBS News.

That moment refers to renewed ties between Cuba and the U.S. after 54 years. The pope helped facilitate that, even hosting secret meetings at the Vatican.

Francis spoke with "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley for "60 Minutes" ahead of his trip, who asked about the pope's goal for his American visit.

"To meet people," he told Pelley.

In a message broadcast on state-run television before his arrival, Francis told Cubans that Jesus "never abandons us" and that he "loves them very much."

A recent poll found that less than one-third of Cubans identify as Catholic. But author Julie Schwietert Collazo told Diaz the pope's distinct style is popular in Cuba.

"He's very interested in being inclusive," Collazo said. "Speaking about social justice issues like poverty is really something that appeals to a larger audience than just Catholics."

The communist-run government in Cuba discouraged religion after the revolution, but religious liberties have become more available in recent years.