Cuban Dissident Greeted Briefly by Pope

Promoter of Varela Project Attends General Audience

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ROME, JAN. 10, 2003 ( Vatican sources confirmed that John Paul II briefly greeted Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, last week.

The meeting, Paya himself explained later, took place at the end of the Pope’s general audience in Paul VI Hall.

In statements to the Miami newspaper Nuevo Herald, Paya explained that «practically, one cannot aspire for more in an improvised trip without a fixed agenda.»

For Paya, a practicing Catholic, the Pope’s greeting was «an opportunity of immense spiritual value, which cannot be expressed in political categories.»

The Cuban dissident recently received the 2002 Sakharov Award conferred by the European Parliament. He is promoter of the Varela Project, a document backed by over 11,000 Cubans calling for a referendum to approve laws in favor of freedom of expression and association, democracy and human rights. The Cuban government has ignored the petition.

Paya, who decided to travel to Rome at the last minute, explained that he arrived at the Vatican when the general audience was in progress, but was able to sit in the front row to hear the papal message.

«Once the audience was over, I had the grace of being able to go up to the Holy Father and have him identify me as ‘the Cuban.’ It was a gesture of hope and great encouragement,» Paya added.

According to the Thursday edition of Nuevo Herald, Paya met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss reforms in Cuba.

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