Pope Benedict calls for open society during Cuba visit


Pope Benedict XVI addressed crowds in the city of Santiago

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Pope Benedict XVI has urged Cubans to build an "open and renewed society", at the start of the first papal visit to the communist-run country in 14 years.

At a Mass in front of some 200,000 people in the eastern city of Santiago, he called for a "renewed society".

The Pontiff was welcomed by President Raul Castro who said the country enjoyed good relations with the Church.

His visit marks the 400th anniversary of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre.

The icon - also known as the Mambisa Virgin - was found floating in a bay in 1612 by fishermen and was revered by Cuba's independence heroes.


"Devotion to the Virgin Mambisa has sustained the faith and inspired the defence and promotion of all that gives dignity to the human condition and fundamental rights," the Pope said on his arrival in the country, where Roman Catholics now account for 10% of the population.


At most 10% of Cubans are practising Catholics, but in a politically isolated country like Cuba, this visit is a big event.

Before he arrived the Pope criticised Marxism, talking of the need for new models.

But greeted here by Cuba's communist president, Pope Benedict referred instead to the island broadening its horizons.

Some hope this visit can help accelerate reforms in Cuba.

The Church is looking to boost its standing and influence in a country where so much is controlled by the state.

It is also a chance to revitalise the faith, after four decades of state atheism.

"I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires," he said.

He added that he was convinced that the country "at this moment of particular importance in its history" was "looking to the future" and "striving to renew and broaden its horizons".

President Castro was seated in the front row of the Mass in Cuba's second largest city as believers sang hymns and prayed in Santiago's Revolution Square.

The Pope appealed to the audience to reinvigorate their faith "that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity".

Before the Mass, one man was arrested after shouting: "Down with communism". Others in the audience booed him for spoiling the atmosphere and shouted: "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba".

'Renew horizons'

Ahead of his visit, Pope Benedict had suggested Cuba's Marxist structure "no longer corresponds to reality" and called for the adoption of a "new model".

Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the Antonio Maceo Revolution Square to celebrate a mass in Santiago de Cuba (26 March) Thousands of Cubans attended the ceremony

But on his arrival, he recognised Cuba's efforts to "renew and broaden its horizons".

In his speech at the airport, President Castro said socialist Cuba allowed full freedom of religion and enjoyed good relations with the Catholic Church.

He said Cuba shared the Pope's concerns over global poverty, inequality and environmental destruction.

And he stressed that Cuba was determined to defend its independence in the face of the US embargo.

Both leaders looked back to the visit by the late Pope John Paul II 14 years ago, which Pope Benedict said "was like a gentle breeze that gave new strength to the Church in Cuba".

Observers say relations between Church and state have warmed in Cuba in recent years.

Raul Castro has accepted the Church's mediation on issues such as political prisoners, recognising its position as the most influential organisation outside the communist government.

The Pope's visit is seen as an effort to further improve relations and increase the role of the church in Cuban society at a time of rapid change.

Pope Benedict XVI and Cuba's President Raul Castro walk together after the Pope's arrival in Santiago de Cuba President Raul Castro met Pope Benedict at Santiago airport

The Pope is expected to travel to Havana later for private talks with President Castro and will celebrate Mass in the capital's Revolution Square on Wednesday.

Church officials have said there is no time in his schedule to meet dissidents.

Opposition groups say dozens of dissidents were detained ahead of the visit, and others were prevented from attending the service in Santiago.

Pope Benedict's trip to Cuba follows a visit to Mexico, where he celebrated a huge open-air Mass at the Christ the King monument in the central city of Silao.

He urged the 500,000 Catholics gathered for the sermon to look to their faith in response to poverty and crime and to reject violence and revenge.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    OPEN! What's that saying about the pot,or is it Pope calling the kettle black!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The last thing the Cubans need is the corruption and sleaze the Pope will bring in his wake. He is also one of the last people I would want preaching to me about freedom.

    I am confident that the Cubans will evolve their own freer society anyway, hopefully without importing US style capitalism and democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I think what I see in Libya that there was no freedom of speech and people revolted against injustice. The Cuban government is opening up by allowing pope to visit the island. It should give its people freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Very rich coming from a church that covers up sex abuses

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Cheguevara - your views are just as old fashioned and inaccurate as communisim it self. There is indeed homelessness in Cuba, I have seen it with my own eyes, I have seen beggers on the streets ask me for socks and bread, I have spoken to doctors who work as taxi drivers in the evening to subsitute their measly wages they get. I have spoken to Cubans in Cuba and they hate castro!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    @33.cheguevara ,
    Cuba is an incredibly beautiful island with great people-some exiled, some not.Perhaps the regime will eventually give Cubans the rights/freedoms they deserve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    #32 You answered your own question have you not? Was making a point if you do not understand it then thats too bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    And also, there is no issue of homelessness. The news report yesterday stated that they had appalling living conditions. However, the Cubans I met who had been to London, were disgusted and very shocked at the poverty seen here on the streets of the UK.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I would like to speak up for Cuba, as news reports last night were very anti-cuba. Here are some positives:
    They have an excellent free national health service.
    Their rates of adult literacy are far greater than in the UK.
    Their music is brilliant. They produce excellent musicians and dancers.
    They support their sports men/women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Peter_Sym and Stephen001:

    What on earth are you arguing about? The Catholic Church has done bad things in the past. So has the British Government. The two are not mutually exclusive...

    ...or maybe you just want them to be?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    It is more than a little ironic that Pope Benedict should be urging Cuba to adopt a more open society, given the closed and secretive history of the Vatican. However, having said that, I commend his sensitive and subtle urgings to free up Cuban society to allow it to blossom. Clearly he must be delicate to maintain some kind of relationship with Cuban leaders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    When you think about it, Marxism and Catholicism are simultaniously both religions and ideologies. They both have their own vision of an ideal society. Antithapy between the two is nothing to do with democracy or dignity. They're just rivals, pure and simple.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Pope is out of touch with reality of life. Freedom destroys what is common to all., Cuba is not the cause of world's evil, rather a reaction to protect people from self destruction. Interests of many must take precedence over few, else there will never be peace!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The notion that the Cuban government allows for complete freedom of religious expression is nonsense. The State only allows for religious institutions that align themselves completely with the regime, or offer a potential source of touristic revenue (e.g. Santeria). Christian leaders from evangelical churches are regularly persecuted, imprisoned and their churches are shut down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I actually agree with you on this point.Ron Paul's said as much.I think the embargo served a purpose back in the day&Cuban exiles had much to be "shrill" about.However, that was a long time ago & we need to move forward.Isolation only makes the regime stronger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The Pope only has moral authority not the ability to enforce embargoes as the US has stupidly done for well onto to sixty years against Cuba. Cuba might have been a far more liberal state by now had not the embargo reinforced the regime but idiotic local US politics namely from shrill Cuban exiles in Florida has perpetuated this nonsense. Where's the embargo against China? Communists no?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I was hoping for better, but I supopose I should have expected to see anti-Catholic/anti-Irish comments in the very 1st post I viewed here.Possibly if I scroll down I'll find reasonable comments which actually discuss Cuba, Latin America, religious freedom,issues pertinent to the topic, etc.Here's hoping...

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    #22 I like how you gloss my point about your government.... You are all so high and mighty.... You could find stories to back anything up (personally I don't think he was directly involved), but what gives anyone the right, let alone a Br*t to judge anyone after your crimes and downtrodding of worlds needy?... Glass houses, stones, blah blah blah....


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