In Cuba, Gratitude for Pope's Message - and for Rainfall

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By Mary Murray and Erika Angulo

HAVANA, CUBA -- In Cuba, many are saying the long awaited visit of Pope Francis brought many blessings - even rainfall. After a drought-ridden season, rain fell over Cuba on Monday and more was expected Tuesday. Many in the island were calling it “holy water.”

The Pope's visit mobilized hundreds of thousands of faithful across the island, not just in the capital, Havana.

On Monday in the city of Holguín, people came from towns hundreds of miles away via train, buses and even on foot to get a glimpse of the pontiff. Many had to leave the night before in order to get to the city's Revolution Square for the first-ever Papal mass to this region.

Inocencia Montoya left the rural community of La Sparra at 2:30 in the morning, on a train with 40 of her relatives and neighbors. The 61-year-old grandmother says this was a one of her life goals, to see a pope in person. She was so excited that she did not sleep all night or during the 4-hour train ride.

“I’ve lived my dream,” she said, when she saw the "Popemobile" make its way to the front of the crows of thousands.

Inocencia Montoya surrounded by her family poses at the mass in Holguin after her all-night journey to see Pope Francis.Erika Angulo / NBC News

Leadra Loret de Mola, a teacher, walked the 45 minutes from her home to the plaza in the early morning. She says she came to thank Pope Francis for his help in improving U.S. – Cuba relations.

“He’s a great man and he needs to be thanked for what he has done for the Cuban people,” she said. Many Cubans expressed gratitude for the role the pontiff has played in ending hostilities between Washington and Havana. They believe he will continue to help bring peace across the Florida straits given his repeated message here during his 72-hour visit for the need for people with different points of view to engage in dialogue, tolerance and bridge building.

Leandra Loret de Mola says she attended the mass to thank the Pope for pushing for an improvement in U.S. -Cuba relations.Erika Angulo / NBC News

For many in the island, it was the Pope's message about families that resonated the most. The importance of families - and taking care of families - is the theme of the papal visit to Cuba and the U.S, which was why Francis's last event in Cuba was with a meeting of families, said Monsignor Federico Lombardi.

"Let us care for our families, true schools for the future," said the pope to families gathered at the cathedral.

On Tuesday during his last homily in Cuba, Pope Francis spoke about more freedom for Cuba’s Catholic Church. For years, the Cuban church had been banned from community service and any outreach activities beyond celebrating mass and the sacraments.

'Holguin thanks you and asks for your blessing,' says the sign that served as shelter from the relentless sun.Erika Angulo / NBC News

"Like Mary, we want to be a Church that serves, that goes beyond its houses, chapels, and sacristies in order to go forth to accompany life, to sustain hope, and provide a sign of unity... we want to be a Church which goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation... which can accompany all those difficult situations... and not wash our hands but rather walk with our brothers and sisters," he said.

People of all ages came out to Santiago de Cuba to greet Pope Francis. During the Pope's ride to the Catholic Cathedral, two children approached the Pope, posed and each took a turn snapping a photo with the "Papa."

People wave to Pope Francis as he makes his way to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Pope Francis on Tuesday called on Cubans to rediscover their Catholic heritage and live a "revolution of tenderness," powerful words in a country whose 1959 revolution installed an atheist, communist government that sought to replace the church as the guiding force in people's lives.Ramon Espinosa / AP

On state-run Cuban television, there seemed to be a more tolerant tone surrounding the Pope's visit. Some of the comments included that the Pope was "magical" for Cuban people, that the Pope's message was to "build bridges," and that Cuban Catholics embody "society's best values."

Pope Francis stood in the balcony of the Cathedral and bid farewell to the Cuban people. He parted with words of advice to take care of the elderly and the youngest of society. He then blessed the audience and rode off, about 20 minutes ahead of his schedule, to Santiago airport.

Before the first Latin American Pope left, Cubans saw on their televisions how the Pope took president Raul Castro's hand and brought it to his heart as they were saying goodbye.

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