WYD a Bridge Between Young Cubans and the World

Contingent of 200 Gets a Rare Opportunity

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TORONTO, July 26, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II at World Youth Day received a welcome from 200 young Cubans, the largest group ever permitted by the communist government to travel out of country for a religious event.

«This is a great experience for Cuban youth,» said seminarian Wilfredo Leiter, 23, from Santa Clara, Cuba. «It’s a very rare opportunity to be here as a Christian meeting the Pope. It really validates your faith.»

The 200 pilgrims listened to the pontiff’s opening address Thursday and cheerfully greeted curious visitors from other nations.

Bishop Carlos Baladrón of the Guantanamo-Baracoa Diocese remarked that most of the Cuban pilgrims visiting Toronto had never been outside their island nation.

«Young people in Cuba haven’t had opportunities to participate in events like this,» the bishop said. «They don’t know the outside world.»

About 60% of Cubans are nominally Catholic, the bishop said, but less than 4% worship actively.

Open worship is still discouraged, the pilgrims said, but Catholics can pray and celebrate Mass in church basements.

«You need a permit from the state for any public Mass or celebration,» Leiter said.

Traveling to Canada meant months of planning. The bishop and his colleagues had to organize exit and entry visas and raise money through church collections. Their main sponsors were Canadian organizers and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Laity, which coordinates World Youth Days.

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