Cardinal says pope wants revival of faith in Cuba

Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:46am EDT
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Pope Benedict wants to help revive religious faith in Cuba when he visits the communist island later this month, the leader of Cuba's Catholic Church said in a nationally televised address.

In a country that for years was officially atheist, Cardinal Jaime Ortega said the 84-year-old pontiff saw the stirrings of religious fervor in the crowds of people who paid homage to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre when the icon of Cuba's patron saint was paraded around the country last year.

"There was great interest in this pilgrimage because the pope is committed to reviving the faith in countries that were Christianized before who need a new evangelization," Ortega, who is the archbishop of Havana, said on Tuesday.

"There was something in this mission that was the revival of a sleeping faith, maybe a faith a little suppressed, but that was present in the heart of the people."

"The pope feels that he comes to confirm us in this faith. He comes to reaffirm these Christian values," said Ortega, who wore religious clothing and a chain with a large cross dangling from his neck.

The German-born pope will visit Cuba from March 26 to 28 at a time of change on the island, where President Raul Castro has undertaken reforms liberalizing the Soviet-style economy and improved long-rocky relations with the Catholic Church.

Ortega brokered a deal with Castro in 2010 to release more than 100 political prisoners and has been a forceful voice for economic reforms.

In December, Castro released 2,900 prisoners, citing the pope's pending visit as one of the reasons. Most of those freed were convicted of common crimes, although some were believed to have been political prisoners.   Continued...

Pope Benedict XVI waves during his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican March 14, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile