Pope Benedict visits Cuba urging openness, religious freedom

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday beginning a three day trip in which the leader of the Catholic church met with Cuban leaders and publicly spoke on the need for religious freedom. Pope Benedict spoke before a large audience yesterday in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. Benedict called for change in Cuba and the rest of the world.

Cquote1.svg Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity. Cquote2.svg

Pope Benedict XVI

"Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity," he said.

Benedict's arrival in Cuba comes 14 years after the first papal visit by Pope John Paul II. The late pope addressed the nation in 1998 and said that Cuba should "open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba." Benedict's speech in Havana focused on the rise of religious freedom in Cuba since the 1990s – when the country dropped official atheism – as well as the need for more religious freedom in the country.

"It is with joy that in Cuba there have been steps so that the church can carry out its mission. ... The right to freedom of religion, as an individual and a community, manifests the unity of a human being, citizen and believer at the same time," he said.

While Benedict kept the speech mostly apolitical, during the trip he made comments that could be interpreted as criticism of the communist country.

"There are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in 'their truth' and try to impose it on others," Benedict said.

Also during the trip, the pope prayed for greater freedom for Cubans at the statue of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Santiago. The pope also said Cuba's political system "no longer corresponds to reality."

Cquote1.svg In Cuba, there will not be political reform. Cquote2.svg

Marino Murillo

In response, Marino Murillo, vice president of the island's council of ministers, said Cuba is sustainable and will not change. "In Cuba, there will not be political reform," Murillo said.

According to groups on the island, 60 individuals were detained or put on house arrest during Pope Benedict's televised Mass. Amnesty International also reported that Cuban human rights organizations, such as the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, were unable to communicate via phones or mobile-phones starting Monday.

Cquote1.svg ... some have had their houses surrounded to prevent them (from) denouncing abuses during Pope Benedict's tour. Cquote2.svg

Amnesty International

"The clampdown has seen an increase in arrests, activists' phones have been disconnected, and some have had their houses surrounded to prevent them (from) denouncing abuses during Pope Benedict's tour," Amnesty International said.

In addition to visiting various cities in Cuba and celebrating Mass in Havana, Benedict also met with former Cuban President Fidel Castro yesterday. According to a Vatican spokesman, Castro asked for a "modest and simple" meeting with the pontiff. The two spoke for 30 minutes in which the former president – who stepped down in 2006 due to illness – asked the pope about the evolution of the Catholic church over the years and what life is like as a pope.

Castro spoke of the pope in a positive light: "...a man whose contact with children and humble members of society has, invariably, raised feelings of affection."

Pope Benedict left Cuba Wednesday evening.


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