NEW YORK - Inside the El Artesano Restaurant in Union City, New Jersey, home-style Cuban dishes are served to customers with passionate views about their home country. This area of Hudson County was once described as Little Havana because of its large influx of expatriates from the island nation.
Cuban Americans Fran Sanchez and Carmen Guerra are hoping the Holy Father's visit to Cuba will produce tangible results and say the release of 3,500 prisoners ahead of Pope Francis' visit is a good sign.
Catholicism and Cuba have a long and complicated history. A State Department survey from the 1950s found more than 90 percent of Cuba's 11 million residents identified as Catholic. Today, that number is closer to 25 percent after years of restrictions under the Castro regime. During his visit, Pope Francis is expected to push for more religious and personal freedoms.
Robin Hayes is a political science professor at the New School and director of the film "Black in Cuba." She says the strength of the pontiff's influence is evident in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
Pope Francis is the third leader of the Catholic Church to visit Cuba since 1998. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI also made the trip.