Urging freedoms for Cuba, Pope honors patron saint
Santiago: Pope Benedict on Tuesday urged Cubans to "work for justice" during a ceremony to pay homage to the island's patron saint, and said he was close to those "deprived of freedom," an apparent reference to political prisoners in the communist-run nation.
A steel band played "Ave Maria" and onlookers waved Cuban flags as the pontiff visited a basilica housing the doll-sized figurine of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre on the second day of a papal trip the Roman Catholic Church hopes will foster renewed faith and increase its influence in Cuba.
Benedict was to fly from eastern Cuba to Havana after what the Church calls his "pilgrimage" to the Virgin for a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with President Raul Castro and possibly his older brother, former leader Fidel Castro.
He was to give a public Mass on Wednesday before returning home from the second papal visit in history to the Caribbean island. Pope John Paul II came to Cuba in 1998 on a landmark trip that helped improve long-troubled Church-state relations.
Cuba is marking the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the icon of the Virgin, an important figure for both the Church and Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion that is a legacy of Cuba's slavery era and which knows her as Ochun, the goddess of love.