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Pope to Celebrate Mass in Havana; Bible Toting Donald Trump Attends Iowa Forum. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2015 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:00:00] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: First in Havana, Cuba. Got a live picture up for you. The faithful up early. Tens of thousands already packed into Revolution Square awaiting a Sunday mass celebration by Pope Francis.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Cubans are hoping the pontiff can usher in a new revolution as Chris Cuomo is there. He's been saying they hope Revolution Square becomes evolution square, really opening up that country to the rest of the world with something that we take for granted. A small little thing here called Wi-Fi.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we complain when we don't have it. Chris will put this into context for us in a moment.

But the pope will have to convince the Castros to make that happen, the availability of Wi-Fi. A meeting of the mind could come later today. We heard from the Vatican if the meeting between the pope and Fidel Castro is to happen and it is possible, in their words, it will likely happen later today.

PAUL: Yes, we want to wish a good morning to all of you here in the United States and around the world. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. A pleasure to be with you today.

PAUL: Let's go live to Havana and our Chris Cuomo there, as the sun starts to rise there. We're probably a few minutes from sunrise. Tens of thousands packing in.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It is so much alive here already. Nobody is waiting for the sun. We have been listening to words reverberating throughout this crowd. The Cuban government says there will be hundreds of thousands here.

They were just saying "Our Father" and the words are so happy with significance for these people. "Give us our day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, lead us not into temptation" -- these are not just holy incantation for these people, this is their lives. They are struggling for food. They are hoping for change.

So, it's not just a prayer. It is a hope of a promise. These aren't just the faithful, they are also the hopeful and they're here to see Pope Francis, the mass is at 9:00. It will be a full mass. It will go about an hour and a half. They have been testing the sound system. They have a choir here.

It's going to be a beautiful ceremony but the meaning of it as much as it will be the moment of that actual mass. The pope is going to give first communion to several kids, very important. You hear the music behind us now. Other big events, 4:00 p.m., that's when the pope is going to meet with Cuban government officials. Does that mean that that when Pope Francis gets to meet with Fidel Castro? He mentioned him in his speech yesterday. He said that he wanted Raul to send his considerations and respect to Fidel.

And then what is really a special event, 6:30 p.m., 2,000 kids get to meet with Pope Francis. The Vatican ask that there be Wi-Fi afforded these kids so that they can spend messages to social media. That will be a big deal, especially here in Cuba. Internet is not something people get normally. They get it on rarely, sparely.

So, this is a big deal in a place that is not all about freedom, as we know. This is also a big deal. Here in Revolution Square, you got who is the Holy Trinity of revolution if you want to call it that. You have all of these images. For the first time you have Jesus Christ.

They are saying good morning here as they do the announcements for the upcoming mass. The message underneath Jesus Christ is "come to me."

I want to bring John Allen now.

We were together at the conclave, John -- is obviously our man that we go to for all things to do with the pope and religion in general. John, we were at the conclave. Bergoglio was seen as a long shot. But the promise of him as a pope was that he would create a situation just like this.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Yes, Chris. You may remember we were on a viewing platform when the white smoke went up and 30 minutes later when the announcement was made. You and I spent that day trying to do the back story on Bergoglio. He wasn't the cardinal of Argentina, he wasn't immediately familiar to us.

But behind us, remember that there was a Mexican TV crew that went absolutely nuts because to them this wasn't just an Argentinean who got elected, it was history's first Latin American, a man who literally speaks their language. And that's the electricity you can feel on that crowd that's here today.

CUOMO: He'll be speaking his mother tongue. He comes from Latin America. There is culture. There's language. But also, the -- by the way, just in case you want to know what they are saying -- they are just telling the crowd right now what it expect when the mass comes and how long it will be and just to put them a little bit at ease.

The idea of what he can accomplish there is no question the Vatican had a hand in Cuban/U.S. relations. What is their big vision? ALLEN: Well, I mean, first of all, there's no question he played that

role because both Barack Obama and Raul Castro said out loud that that deal probably wouldn't happen without Pope Francis. Fundamentally, I think the role he can play is as a voice of conscience.

Now, the popes have tried to place. The difference between Francis is that in addition to moral credibility, he's got political capital in the bank. People take him seriously as a change agent in his role in normalizing relations there in Cuba. And obviously, most of the people this mass will be hoping that it doesn't stop there. That in short order, we also see an end to the trade embargo.

[07:05:00] COUMO: And, you know, it's important to know Cuba was added to his trip. He was originally going to the U.S. and doing it first and always symbolism and message in all of that. We will listen to the message this morning and see what he says and how he says it and what he doesn't say and you can help us decode it as always. This is about the crowd being addressed.

Right now, he's -- they are talking about where the pope is going to go and how they want people to enjoy this day.

Let's go to Ed Lavandera. He's actually out among the people.

Ed, tell us what you're hearing right now because I've been talking to John Allen. What are the announcements we are hearing and what is the feel in the crowd?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you mentioned, just preparing them for the mass and what the process here will signify. We are here in the middle of the crowd at the beginning of the masses of the crowd that will go back.

You know, the fact of the matter is here this morning, Chris, the vast majority of the people who come out here this morning will not be able to see Pope Francis. The crowd here will go back hundreds of yards, hundreds of thousands of people expected. This is the VIP area that is a little bit closer but is still incredibly large and you see the altar there where Pope Francis will be.

It will be incredibly hot but these people have some of the best seats in the house for many of the people here standing room only in the plaza. Pope Francis will circle the plaza so people can get a look at him and, at one point, the Popemobile and Pope Francis will drive up here through the middle and make his way toward and behind the altar where he will change into his garments for the mass here this morning.

So, all of these people here will get a very close glimpse to the pope. Hundreds of thousands of people here expected this morning. We have talked to several of them who have been showing up here and started showing up here since 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. So they have already been here a great deal of time and they have much longer to go.

The heat here will be a huge issue for many people that are standing in the crowd once the sun comes up. It will really be down on them. There are Red Cross stations stationed throughout the plaza. We have already seen a number of people who have needed treatment here. It will be incredibly hot and intense and emotional day for many people in the crowd here this morning -- Chris.

CUOMO: Yes, quick thing, Ed. What is the reaction to seeing the big image of Jesus in Revolution Square? How does it affect the people?

LAVANDERA: It really speaks to the issue here and the question of Catholicism in this country and not uncommon for many people to simply not know much about the practices and traditions of the Catholic Church for decade. Many of these people have been raised in atheist kind of society. A number of people I've spoken with here this morning that say they have remained Catholic for many, many years and practiced quietly but they do say that here in recent years, things have changed dramatically for them and they can practice their faith more openly.

But that is a minority of people. Many people just simply have grown up without the Catholic Church in their lives and many people who just don't understand the pomp and circumstance of what we are seeing here today.

CUOMO: All right. Ed, thank you so much.

Please, let us know when you have people that you want to report on and we will come back to you. Thanks for being there with us.

I want to bring in Patrick Oppmann. We call him at CNN our man in Havana because he is. He is the only American TV journalist based out of Cuba and he lives here. His wife is Cuban, his kid are with him here now.

We have been talking about religion but you've been impressing upon me since we came here, this isn't just about the faithful. It's about the hopeful. People who are so desperate for change, they'll take it in any form it comes.

So, what is the context in Cubans minds what the pope means?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pope means somebody coming in to deliver a message that the government really can't block. And this is somebody who -- look at the changed he has enacted in a short time as pope. He is revolutionary in a different way. This is a pope that said we will have better relations between United States and Cuba and bringing Cuban people together and he has done it, and he has dragged both presidents kicking and screaming.

One short story, when I covered the pope's visit in 1998, I remember at the airport, seeing people getting a hard time for bringing in VHS machines for the families. Now you see people bringing DVD machines, maybe down the road it will be routers, those are still prohibited. So, it's small steps and small steps are being taken in Cuba today.

CUOMO: And he certainly knows his audience. Over his head, it says the message there over his head. He doesn't want to be seen as a royal figure. He says he is a missionary of mercy as Patrick was explaining to me and something will resonate for the people and they are very hungry for people to reach out to him and see how he will do it today.

Back to you.

PAUL: Hey, Chris, thank you so much. Such great things that we are learning from there and what a sunrise, isn't it?

BLACKWELL: Yes. Beautiful day.

PAUL: Over this mass that is going to be celebrated here in just a couple of hours now and to think that some people who have already been standing out there for four hours.

[07:10:02] BLACKWELL: Yes, we'll go back to Havana in just a moment. But also, big day in politics, and we're going to talk about faith in the 2016 race. Donald Trump now campaigning with personal bible in hand and a confirmation photo. Is this -- let's place this way -- how is this being received by GOP primary voters?

PAUL: Also, Trump tells CNN he loves Muslims. The GOP front-runner reacting to his later controversy. We have a live report and what he says in his own words.

BLACKWELL: And identifying Baby Bella. How forensic science helped investigators crack the mystery surrounding this baby girl's death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: Important poll numbers set to be released this morning on CNN in less than two hours now. Comes on the heels of the second GOP debate and could be a major indicator to see if other candidates are gaining ground on the front-runner Donald Trump. Trump attended a faith and freedom forum in Iowa and he walked onto the stage with his personal bible there in his hand, even showed the crowd a picture from his confirmation.

Trump also addressed the latest controversy over his handling of town hall participants' claim that the president is Muslim and not an American. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had quite a couple of days, as you noticed. I did a very innocent town hall with about 3,000 people at least and the first question I said this can only happen to me. You all know what the first question was. The press is going crazy and they all wanted to see me. I said for the first time in my life, I got in trouble by not saying anything. I didn't say anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's go to CNN's MJ Lee in Des Moines, Iowa, who is following the Trump campaign. [07:15:00] MJ, Trump went to a homecoming event last night. You were there. The students who were there were, obviously, pretty tied into the current events because one of them asked a question that went directly to the heart of this controversy.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, Victor. Donald Trump was unable to avoid this controversy, even at a high school homecoming where the student body wanted to have a presidential campaign come and address their homecoming. That when I spoke to the principal of the school, he said the students were able to arrange for Trump to come earlier in the month. There was a lot of excitement. The students were having a presidential candidate talk to them before their big homecoming dance.

As you mentioned, one of the students actually asked Donald Trump about his views about Muslim Americans and we also caught up with him as well to ask him about the latest controversy. Take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Do you personally think that Muslims pose a danger to this country?

TRUMP: I love the Muslims. I think they are great people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I consider Muslim Americans to be an important asset to our country and society. Would you consider putting one in your candidate or even on your ticket?

TRUMP: You consider what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Putting one in your candidate or on your ticket, a Muslim-American.

TRUMP: Muslim?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-huh.

TRUMP: Oh, absolutely. No problem with that. Would I consider putting a Muslim American in my cabinet? Absolutely, no problem with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Victor, this has become a hot political topic on the campaign trail. Democrats have really pounced on Donald Trump, saying that this basically shows he is an outright racist.

On the other hand, Republicans have given a more mixed reaction to the controversy saying that it's not always the candidate's responsibility to correct a voter when they say something that is incorrect. Donald Trump, obviously, agrees with that as we saw on the number of tweets he sent out on Saturday.

BLACKWELL: All right. So, I wonder if you could kind of give us an idea of how voters who were there at this Faith and Freedom Forum reacted to the confirmation bible he brought with him, the confirmation photo.

LEE: Right. I mean, it seemed clear that Donald Trump was on a mission to make a strong appeal to the evangelicals in this state which is significant in a state like Iowa where there is a big population of born again Christians.

He said repeatedly that he is a Christian. As you mentioned, he was holding the bible in hand. He really said that as president, his top priority would be to protect people's religious liberties.

This is a sort of different side of Donald Trump that we are seeing over the weekend. From a couple of weeks ago, maybe over a month ago, when Donald Trump sort of made jokes about talking about taking sips of the little wine and having a little bit of the cracker for communion and on Donald Trump's mind recently.

BLACKWELL: All right. MJ Lee there for us in Des Moines, thanks so much.

PAUL: All right. Let's bring in CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, along with CNN senior politics reporter, Stephen Collinson as well, because I want to get back to this and talk about Trump's entrance with the bible in his hand at this forum.

And just to give us a good sense of what we are talking about, take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I brought my bible. See? I'm better than you thought, you see?

And, actually, this was given to me by my mother and I was just noticing yesterday, and she wrote such a beautiful inscription. That is Mary MacLeod from Scotland. Very religious, and something I thought I would bring along today because this is a group that fully understands bibles and respects everything that it says.

I also brought my confirmation picture because nobody can believe it. Nobody believes this!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: I will commit that when we heard he brought a confirmation picture, everybody in the newsroom said, oh, he had a confirmation picture.

Let me get your initial reactions, Errol, to that.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi, Christi. It looks to me about as clumsy as one could be at trying to establish of hey, I'm sort of like you. It was, I guess, the religious equivalent of going to an Iowa farmer in some overalls and some brand new boots and said I sure like to eat food from the farm. Donald Trump has, in fact, been trying to sort of do better with

evangelicals because if you look closely at the polls, he is not strongly favored by people who are actual church-goers and lots of certain flavors of Christianity and when you drill down into the polls, it's people are strong believers and go to church at least once a month, about 21 percent, much lower than any other kinds of support, even among evangelicals.

So, he's got some ground to makeup. It's the right thing to do, it's a logical thing to do in a place like Iowa.

PAUL: OK. So, Stephen, in his defense, he, obviously, was confirmed. He has some sort of religious background in his years of growing up. Was there anything about this that you felt was possible disingenuous?

[07:20:04] STEPHEN COLLNSON: I don't know. It's -- in a way, it's Donald Trump's style to be brash and take this head-on. To Errol's point if you want to win the Iowa caucuses you have to speak the language of evangelical voters.

If you look at the last two Republicans who won the Iowa caucus, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have been able to do that. Donald Trump has not shown he is able to do that. By doing it in this kind of such an open, light-hearted way and takes aim at the issue that he is not religious enough for Iowans and almost makes a joke out of it and sort of brings the crowd along this. So, in some ways, I think this was kind of effective politically.

PAUL: Yes, with the Christian conservative, as you were saying, Errol, we believe the numbers are -- Trump 21 percent there and Carson has 27 percent, so he is in second place in that particular poll with Iowa evangelicals.

Thank you both, gentlemen, so much, Stephen Collinson and Errol Louis. And we'll talk more, too, here coming up about this poll that's coming out to get a better sense of what happened at that second debate and how that might be driving people and voters to what they believe and who they believe and they will vote for. Thank you so much, gentlemen.

LOUIS: Thanks, Christi.

BLACKWELL: Yes, those numbers coming out at 9:00.

Also at 9:00 on "STATE OF THE UNION," we are going to hear from Donald Trump.

But let's talk about the devastation across California now. Two major wildfires responsible for the destruction of more than a thousand homes and that number could grow.

Plus, live pictures now of sunrise at revolution square in Havana. Tens of thousands of people expected. Maybe hundreds of thousands of people as the hours go on. About 90 minutes now from the beginning of the pope's mass. Live coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:25:15] PAUL: All right. Take a look at this. That is what is left after wildfires that are raging across parts of northern California making their way through neighborhoods and they have destroyed over 1,000 homes. We're talking about the Valley and Butte Fires that are mostly contained now but have burned 145 acres and at least five people have died.

BLACKWELL: The suspect arrested in the rash of highway shooting in Phoenix says he is not the guy. Leslie Allen Merritt is in jail, bond set at $1 million and due in court this week. Merritt is suspected of firing to several cars on interstate 10 but he says he has no access to a weapon and his gun has been in a pawn shop two months. Authorities says his 9 millimeter gun was forensically linked to the first 4 of 11 shootings along I-10.

PAUL: Famed British author Jackie Collins has passed away. The best selling novelist died Saturday in Los Angeles from breast cancer. She was best known for the salacious book "Hollywood Wives." Jackie Collins was 77.

BLACKWELL: Hundreds of thousands of people expected to pack Revolution Square in Havana for this historic moment set to happen in a little more than 90 minutes from now. Pope Francis to celebrate mass there in Cuba and delivering it in Spanish. Many of the faithful, as we have heard from Patrick Oppmann from there, the hopeful as well.

We will go back live to Havana next.

PAUL: But, first, Isaiah Byrd has seen more than his fair share of adversity in his young life. It will no stop him from doing what he wants to do and win it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Isaiah Bird's mantra is no excuses. The seven-year-old was born without legs.

ISAIAH BIRD: I don't like let that stand in my way. You don't make no excuses in this team. No excuses at all.

GUPTA: The mantra comes from Bird's wrestling coach, and also mentor, Miguel Rodriguez, who met the little boy at a dark time for Bird's family. Homeless after Hurricane Sandy, Bird didn't even have his own wheelchair.

MIGUEL RODRIGUEZ, ISAIAH BIRD'S WRESTLING COACH: He has been through so much in life, but he never feels sorry for himself. The fact that he never complained about not having legs. The fact that he said to me, I can do it. That's what caught my eye about him.

GUPTA: Rodriguez encouraged Isaiah to take up wrestling, a sport he could complete in without the use of his legs. Isaiah started to win. RODRIGUEZ: He took third place at the New York State wrestling championships, sixth place in the nationals. Parents and coaches who tell their kids, take it easy on him, take it easy on him, they're total opposite now. You're wrestling Isaiah, you go hard on him. You -- you take him down.

GUPTA: For Bird, wrestling is just the beginning. He's also taken up surfing and he's not stopping there.

BIRD: I want to win so bad. I want to earn things. I don't complain because I do it. I never give up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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