VATICAN CITY, JULY 6, 2001 ( John Paul II denounced the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, while criticizing the island´s lack of human rights and freedom.

The Pope made his comments in a message today to the members of the Cuban bishops´ conference, who are in Rome for their quinquennial "ad limina" visit.

John Paul II proposed the Church´s social doctrine as the foundation for total respect of human rights and for "sincere reconciliation" in the Communist-ruled island.

"When, as Catholic bishops of Cuba, you call for justice, liberty and greater solidarity, you are not defying anyone but complying with your mission, desiring a life solidly based on the truth about man for the Cuban people," the Pope said.

On the other hand, he added: "In the name of that justice, the restrictive economic measures imposed from outside are unjust and ethically unacceptable."

John Paul II said that human rights "must be integrally considered, from the right to life of the unborn, until natural death, without excluding any individual or social right, either the rights to nourishment, health and education or the right to exercise freedom of movement, expression and association."

The Pontiff took advantage of the Cuban bishops´ presence to evaluate his historic visit to their nation in January 1998.

John Paul II was pleased with the progress made in religious liberty, specifically, "the recovery of the celebration of Christmas; the possibility to undertake some pilgrimages, which are part of rich popular piety; greater participation of Catholics in the life of the country; the presence of some Cuban youths in the 15th World Youth Day of Rome; and a noticeable increase in the faithful´s participation in the reception of the sacraments."

"However," the Pope noted, "there are other aspects that still do not have a satisfactory result, but it is hoped that, with the good will of all, a just and appropriate solution will be reached."

Following the 1998 papal visit, the Church in Cuba asked the Castro government for permission to offer its contribution in the field of education, and to allow its voice to be heard in the media. The only permission granted was for magazines of limited circulation.

The Holy Father said the future of Christianity in Cuba will depend to a large extent on the application of a five-year pastoral plan established by the bishops at the end of the Jubilee Year.

Thanks to this initiative, "meeting centers of the Catholic community have opened in many homes, especially in neighborhoods and villages where for years it has not been possible to build new churches," the Pope said.

These "mission houses" or "prayer houses," as they are known, are the appropriate answer to the "historic hour" that Cuba is living, he said.