Rodriguez hopes that change is on the way, although it may still take time. "The fundamental change is the protagonism of the Cuban people after years of having to hide what they think," he said, his hands still sore from clapping at all four of the pope's Masses. "What has happened in Cuba is a genuine miracle. It's the resurrection of the Cuban people."
A pocket-sized parish priest, Rodriguez, 46, is one of Cuba's most outspoken church figures. His blunt words have earned him the popular title of "Cardinal of the People." He got into hot water in 1994 after he read an open letter from the pulpit of his parish church in eastern Cuba criticizing Fidel Castro. In the letter, Rodriguez asked Castro to heal the country's political divisions by entering into a peaceful dialogue with all Cubans, including dissidents and exiles.
One thing the Cuban church will be asking Castro for is permission to bring in more priests and missionaries from abroad. For example, before he left Cuba Rodriguez was the only priest for 240,000 parishioners. After three decades of religious persecution, which ended officially in only 1992, Cuba has only 275 priests, compared to almost 500 in South Florida alone.