Pope says Church needs more freedom to help Cuba change
By Simon Gardner and Philip Pullella
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba (Reuters) - Pope Benedict arrived in Cuba on Monday and told the government it had nothing to fear from the Catholic Church, asking for more freedoms to help the communist country in times of change.
Just three days after saying that communism no longer works in Cuba, the pope took a softer stance as he landed in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba for a three-day trip aimed at boosting the Church's role on the island.
The 84-year-old German pope delivered a carefully worded, nuanced and balanced arrival address after he was greeted warmly by President Raul Castro, dressed in a dark suit, accompanied by a full Honor Guard and artillery gun salute.
He was less direct in his criticism of Cuba's one-party political system than he had been when speaking to reporters on Friday, although he did offer some thinly veiled phrases addressing Cuba's human rights record.
"I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be," he said, including the "sufferings" of prisoners and their families, a reference likely to be well received by political dissidents on the island as well as Cuban American exiles in the United States.
Visiting 14 years after Pope John Paul II's landmark trip to Cuba, Benedict called that trip, which was a highlight of improved Church-state relations after decades of hostility that followed the 1959 revolution, "a gentle breath of fresh air".
But he said that while great strides had been made in improving relations with the Church, "many areas remain in which greater progress can and ought to be made, especially as regards the indispensable public contribution that religion is called to make in the life of society".
Benedict, who visited Mexico over the weekend, is trying to cement the Church's recent gains in Cuba and offer more help in assuring that whatever transition comes is buffered by its social programs, such as care centers for the elderly and limited after-school and adult education programs. Continued...