VATICAN CITY, Rome, Mon. July 19, 2021 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday called for peace and dialogue in Cuba after unprecedented, nationwide protests rocked the communist-run country.

“I am also close to the dear people of Cuba in these difficult times,” Francis said in his weekly address to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, his first public appearance since returning to the Vatican after an 11-day hospital stay.

The pope also urged an end to the recent violence in South Africa and called the deadly floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands a “catastrophe.”

Cubans all around the world have begun showing support for those calling for “Patria Y Vida” in Havana including several gathered in Rome Sunday to receive the Pope’s blessing.

 “Cuba Libre” was painted in giant block letters on the street directly in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington on Friday following unprecedented protests on the Communist-led island last weekend.

The phrase – which literally means ‘free Cuba’ – has long been associated with both Cuban independence from Spain and later its 1959 revolution.

Cuban-born pop star Gloria Estefan also on Friday urged the United Nations to condemn the Communist government in Havana for its suppression of mass protests.

Estefan, 63, who left Cuba for the United States with her family when she was two years old, said she hoped the Cuban police and military would throw their support behind the protests.

This as Raul Castro was among thousands who attended a government-organized rally in Havana on Saturday to denounce the U.S. trade embargo and reaffirm their support for Cuba’s revolution, a week after unprecedented protests rocked the communist-run country.

Government supporters gathered on the city’s seafront boulevard before dawn to wave Cuban flags and photos of late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. The latter retired as Communist Party leader in April but promised to continue fighting for the revolution as a “foot soldier.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

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