Pope Arrives in Cuba on Mission to Renew Faith

Pope Benedict XVI walks with Cuba's President Raul Castro, second right, as he arrives to Antonio Maceo airport in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, March 26, 2012.
Pope Benedict XVI walks with Cuba's President Raul Castro, second right, as he arrives to Antonio Maceo airport in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, March 26, 2012.

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in communist Cuba with the aim of awakening the faith in what was once officially an atheist state.

Benedict was greeted Monday by President Raul Castro at an airport in Cuba's second largest city, Santiago. His visit marks the 400th anniversary of the religious icon, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, venerated by many Cubans regardless of their faith.

The pontiff said he came to Cuba as a "pilgrim of charity," and he made a veiled reference to Cuba's political prisoners. "I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need," he said.

He also said change is in Cuba's future. "I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons. Of great help in this enterprise will be the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation's true identity and which stand out in the work and the life of many distinguished fathers of the country," he said.

The pope arrives at time when church-state relations are warming.  The Roman Catholic Church has grown to become the most influential institution behind the government. Cuba was officially an atheist state from 1959 until a constitutional change in 1992 abolished atheism as the state creed and called for separation of church and state. At that time, the Communist Party also lifted its ban on members with religious beliefs.

Pope Benedict set the tone for his trip Friday when he said the Catholic Church is ready to help Cuba move away from communism. He said the Marxist ideology no longer corresponds to reality, and he offered the Church's help to move Cuba ahead without "trauma."  

Cuban dissidents hope they will be able to present the pope with their views about the government.

In Santiago, at least 15 members of the Ladies in White, a prominent dissident group, have been detained.  The group is comprised of wives and mothers of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown on opponents of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  Each week, the women, dressed in white, march in Havana to demand the release of political prisoners.  The Ladies in White, along with many other people, have asked for an audience with the pope during his visit.

But the Archbishop of Santiago says the pope's time is limited.

“Many people came to give us lots of requests, lots, you can't imagine how many," he said. "One said: 'I'm having problems with my home, and I believe the Holy Father can help me.' Others have participated in this call from the Ladies in White. We have channeled these requests.”

A group that monitors detentions on the island says 70 government opponents have been arrested in the four days leading up to the pontiff's visit.

Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass in Santiago before heading to the capital, Havana, to complete his three-day visit. It is not clear whether he will meet with Fidel Castro or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is in the Cuban capital for cancer treatment.

Cuba is the last stop on the pontiff's five-day Latin American trip that began last week in Mexico.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs