Pope Francis to celebrate Catholic faith near icon of atheist revolution in Cuba

Pope Francis' set to lead Cubans to pray in front of 'El Che' monument

HAVANA – "Die religion ... ist das opium des volkes." The sentence is German for "religion is the opiate of the masses."

Ernesto "El Che" Guevara adopted German economist Karl Marx's views of religion with pride. He was 39 when he died fighting for his atheist revolution in Bolivia in 1967. But Cuba has been shifting away from the Communist ideals Guevara envisioned.

A sign of this was set to play out Sept. 20th in the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana. Cubans will celebrate a historic Roman Catholic Mass under the gaze of the iconic image of "El Che."

The controversial image portrays "El Che" as a hero. The stenciled beret is a sign that  the physician engaged in guerrilla war alongside Fidel Castro. The 118-foot sculptural silhouette was inspired on Cuban officials' order to place an enlarged photograph by Alberto Korda during a government event.

In the United States, the propaganda tool turned into a rebellious fashion accessory. In South Florida, the image remained a painful reminder to Cuban-Americans about all that went wrong with their beloved island.

On Tuesday, workers were setting up the altar where Pope Francis will stand to become the third Roman Catholic Pope to deliver a mass in Havana since Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI were there in 1998 and 2012.

Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Mario Begoglio, and Guevara were both born in Argentina and have both attacked capitalism. But Guevara would have probably disagreed with Francis on his criticism of his atheist revolution. 

"The Cuban people must overcome this isolation," Francis wrote in a little-known book titled "Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro." He published in the late 90s.

Pope Francis was involved in the negotiations prompting the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, after decades of Cold War era mistrust.

The Pope's three-day visit -- from Sept. 19 to the 22nd -- is part of a tour that includes the United States, where Cuba now has an embassy.

Pope Francis was expected to talk about his desire to see the U.S. lift the blockade that continues to have the support of a minority of Cuban-Americans in South Florida and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

Follow Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela on Twitter @HatzelVela