Pope's visit helps thaw relations between church and Cuba

While the pope delivered mass in Havana over the weekend, other Cubans worshiped in more modest settings

HAVANA, Cuba -- On Tuesday, Pope Francis begins his first visit to the United States. He'll arrive from Cuba, where he celebrated Mass on Monday for tens of thousands in Holguin, the fourth largest city. Among those at the Mass was the Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

The communist regime is beginning to remove the chains from the church house door.

Mass in magnificent settings like Havana's Our Lady of Mercy is a rare experience for most of Cuba's Catholics. Most worship in makeshift churches -- no walls, no roof, an alter brought in piecemeal.

Pope Francis spends last day in Cuba ahead of U.S. trip

Father Victor Filella says it's a far cry from the early days of the Communist revolution in 1959 when people could be arrested for worshiping.

"I think that now this fear is disappearing," he told CBS News in Spanish.

For the first time in 50 years, work has even started on a new Catholic church.

It will be named after Pope John Paul II, whose visit to Cuba in 1998 helped thaw relations between the church and Fidel Castro.

American priest Father Gilbert Walker lives in Cuba and says Francis is seen as a symbol of hope.

When asked whether he is concerned that things will go back to the way they were once Francis leaves, Walker said, "I don't think so, I don't think it will be facade during the pope's visit, but we'll see."

The church has found a niche serving the poor -- using soup kitchens to help those the government can no longer support.

The state still won't let the church open schools -- but it provided the building for a daycare center run by Sister Teresa Bernadette Vaz.

"Just a few years ago this would have been unthinkable," she told CBS News. "What will happen in the future, we don't know."