Havana: Pope Benedict XVI will begin only the
second ever papal visit to Cuba on March 26, Catholic officials have said, eying a chance to strengthen dialogue between the Church and Cuba`s communist leaders.
The three-day visit, which will follow a brief stop-over
in staunchly Roman Catholic Mexico, has been known about for
some time but the dates and itinerary were only published
yesterday by the conference of Cuban bishops.
President Raul Castro and senior clergy will welcome the
pontiff before he presides over a mass in the second city of
Santiago de Cuba on March 27 in honor of the 400th anniversary
of Cuba`s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity.
The highlight will be a mass on the final day, March 28,
in Havana`s Revolution Square, the same venue where the pope`s
predecessor, John Paul II, gave an historic address on the
first papal visit here in 1998.
In a recent statement, the conference of Cuban bishops underscored the significance of the papal visit, particularly in spurring reconciliation among Cubans.
During his landmark trip, John Paul II urged the regime in
Havana to open up, saying the world would return the favor.
Yet more than a decade later, Cuba`s one-party communist regime, the only one in the Americas, remains intact as it maintains a firm grip over almost every aspect of Cuban life.
There are some signs of change. In 2011, Castro, who took the helm from his brother Fidel in 2006, ushered in economic reforms that should give Cubans greater control of private
The Catholic Church has become an important interlocutor
between dissidents and the Castro regime.