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Catholic Bishops Meet Cuban Officials in Havana

Roman Catholic leaders from across Latin America met with senior Cuban government officials in Havana Friday, seeking a wider role for the church in the communist-ruled country.

Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of (Aparecida) Brazil, one of about 50 clerics taking part in the talks, says communist officials are opening up to dialogue with Catholic leaders, in a climate of improving relations.

The newly elected president of the Latin American Bishops Conference says he looks forward to many future meetings with Cuban authorities.

A Cuban bishop (Emilio Aranguren, from Holguin province, in southeastern Cuba) echoed similar sentiments, although he indicated the two sides steered clear of potential disagreements or controversy. Human-rights issues were not discussed, the Cuban clergyman said, and the visitors did not repeat previous requests for religious programs on government-controlled television.

Friday's talks in Havana concluded a four-day meeting by the Latin American bishops -- their first in Cuba.

Church-state relations in the island nation began to improve following Pope John Paul the Second's landmark visit in 1998. However, the church has no role in Cuba's education system.

After Fidel Castro's revolutionaries seized power in Cuba in 1959, Catholic priests were expelled and the state was officially atheist for decades. Cuba declared itself a secular state in 1992.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.