Pope Benedict XVI Visits Cuba; Catholics Hope Trip Will Spur Change


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L’Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images(HAVANA) — Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba this week marks a historic visit to a country in the midst of transition, which the country’s Catholics hope will spur further political and social change.

Benedict, who arrived on Monday and spent the night near Cuba’s Virgin of Charity icon in the small mining town of El Cobre, will fly to Havana on Tuesday to meet with President Raul Castro.

His brother, Fidel Castro, is not expected to attend the meeting, but might make an appearance at the centerpiece of this trip: an open-air mass in Havana’s Revolutionary Square on Wednesday.

The 84-year-old pontiff spoke Monday during a mass in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city and hometown of the Castros.

“I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith … that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity,” Benedict said to the crowd in the midst of a light rain.

The pope arrived on this trip carrying not only the hopes of Catholics, but of all Cubans, there and abroad, who hope his visit will help spur further freedoms.

In an earlier speech, given while Raul Castro, 80, sat by his side, the pope acknowledged them.

“I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be,” he said.

While just 10 percent of Cubans regularly attend mass, many identify as Catholic, and most see the visit as an opportunity for the pope to appeal to the Castro government on behalf of the Cuban people.

Pope Benedict has thus far been muted in his public criticism of the country that has been run by the Communist Party of Cuba since the 1960s, although before his journey, he told reporters: “It is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.”

He will have an opportunity to deliver his message directly to President Castro when he meets privately with him Tuesday evening.

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