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Cuban Catholic leaders hope cardinal’s visit reinforces faith

ICC Note: This is a hopeful story about religious freedom in Cuba – 10 years after Pope John Paul II made a trip to the island, the situation has improved little by little, but there is much still to be done.

By Catholic News Service
1/21/08 HAVANA (CNS) — A decade after Pope John Paul II’s historic trip to Cuba, church officials hope a Feb. 20-26 visit from the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will reinforce the faith of the island’s Catholics.

The itinerary planned for Cardinal Bertone is almost the same as the one followed by the pope in January 1998, said Havana Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez Ruiz, secretary-general of the Cuban bishops’ conference.

“This is a visit, thanks be to God, highly awaited by the Cuban government, its authorities, which shows great willingness to facilitate everything needed (for the visit) and fulfill our expectations,” Bishop Hernandez said.

In the 10 years since Pope John Paul’s trip, the Catholic Church has seen slow but steady improvement in its relations with Cuba’s communist government, although church officials say they still need greater access to state-run media and would like a church role in education.

“We have been moving ahead slowly, and both sides have the intention of continuing improvement,” Bishop Hernandez said. “In this gradual process of church-state relations, although the people with whom we are in dialogue do not have the gift of the faith, I have seen an effort to understand what the church is and what it does.”

Relations between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government have had ups and downs since Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government came to power in 1959.

Cuba was officially atheist until 1992, when that word was struck from the Cuban Constitution. Catholics and local analysts say Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba paved the way for dialogue, became a rallying point for Cuban religious spirituality and allowed Catholics to recover faith traditions that had been outlawed for years, such as the official celebration of Christmas and authorization for public processions… [Go To Full Story]