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Date: Sat, 3 Jan 98 23:29:34 CST
From: NY-Transfer-News@abbie.blythe.org
Subject: RHC:Religion in Cuba, 1997
Article: 24912

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January 2, 1998
E-mail: rhc@radiohc.org

Religion in Cuba during 1997

From Radio Havana Cuba, 2 January 1998

This year the Cuban Catholic Church in conjunction with the Cuban government centered its attention on preparations for the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II. According to the Catholic hierarchy, the Cuban government and the Vatican had only a few details to be ironed out for a successful trip of pope John Paul II, the first time a pope visits the island.

The Cuban government and Catholic Church created a joint commission which has been working since last February to make arrangements for the pope's visit to Cuba, which is scheduled for January 21st through the 25th. Representatives of the Vatican have on numerous ocassions positively evaluated the preparations underway on the island during periodical visits throughout the year. The organizer of the pope's visits abraod, Roberto Tuchi, Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro Vals and master of ceremonies Piero Marini, visited the island last October and November and expressed satisfaction with the current plans. As preliminary steps for the pope's visit, early this year and even before the president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, Camilo Ruini and Vatican Secretary for Foreign Relations Jean Louis Tourant met with Cuban government and the Catholic Church officials. During the visits, the Vatican representtives exchanged views with president Fidel Castro. The talks will continue in Havana in January of 1998 during the Pope's visit.

The first meeting between the cuban leader and John Paul II took place a little over a year ago on November 19th, 1996, when president Castro attended the FAO Food Summit in Rome. The pope's visit to the island is a clear example of the improved relations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church.

Despite differences, this improvement has encouraged the church to identify itself with key issues for the Cuban people. One important contribution was the condemnation of Washington's over three decade blocakade against the island, made by the sinode of bishops of America, which was presided over by the Vatican on November 16th.

Related to preparations of the Pope's visit, and with previous authorization of the Cuban government, the Church has been organizing the celeberation of 13 public maasses aas an example of what is to come during the Pope's visit. Presided over by the image of Cuba's Patron Saint, the Virgen of Charity, which was placed in public places in Havana province, the City of Havana and Camaguey province, as requested by local churches. Before this, a mass on the ocassion of the festivities of Saints Peter and Paul was held last July 29th in Havana's Cathedral Square.

This activity was the first of its kind in the last 30 years as sign of the Cuban government's willingness to insure the success of Pope John Paul II's visit tothe island, Cuban officials authorized a cruise ship from the US to dock in Havana, carrying passangers to participate in Pope John Paul II"s visit to Cuba. The Cuban government also authorized charter flights from the United States in an attempt to facilitate the arrival of Cuban americans and other citizens residing in the US.

As a result of improved relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church which has characterized the year round preparations for the Pope's visit, the Cuban government has authorized the entry of 28 priests and 29 nuns to offer services in Cuba. They will come from Colombia, Spain and Haiti. Once in Cuba they will join the group of 260 priests and 500 nuns both from Cuba and abroad already working on the island. 15 priests and 24 nuns came to the island a year ago after the meeting between the Cuban government and the Vatican. In the context of improved relations with churches in Cuba, Cuban president Fidel Castro met last month with several leaders of 31 of the 54 Protestant denominations legally recognized by Cuba, plus a representation of the island's Jewish community. These groups ratified their willingness to continue supporting the political and social project of the island. During meeting the representatives of the Cuban Protestant Churches outlined the importance of the Pontif's visit, which is seen as an act of soverignty on the part of the Vatican in the face of some claims that Cuba is isolated from the international community. Church sources say the Pope's visit will also includes the cannonization of Cuban patriot, catholic priest Felix Varela. If everything goes as planned in the process that has taken 10 years, this would provide for Felix Varela, to achieve through official proclamation the status of Cuban Saint in the altars of the Catholic Church.

[c] 1997. Radio Habana Cuba
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