Havana Urged by Pope to Allow Religious Freedom

Calls for Lifting of U.S. Trade Embargo Against Cuba

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II appealed to the Cuban government for “genuine religious liberty” when receiving the letters of credence of the island nation’s new ambassador to the Holy See.

In particular, the Pope requested that Cuban leader Fidel Castro — to whom he expressed “best wishes for his health” — allow missionaries from other countries to enter the country, and emphasized the Church’s right to enlighten social life with its teaching.

In his address Saturday, the Holy Father also criticized the trade embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba, and encouraged Cuban international solidarity.

“For the action of the Church to be more effective among the Cuban people in promoting the common good, it is desirable that, in an atmosphere of genuine religious liberty, it be able to maintain and increase already existing bonds of solidarity with other sister Churches,” John Paul II said.

In particular, the Pope requested that “priests [and] men and women religious” of other countries be welcomed to support “the work of the Catholic Church in Cuba, whose members are part of the Cuban people, living united and in communion and harmony with the Apostolic See.”

To enter the country, Catholic foreign missionaries must get permission from the Religious Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

In Cuba, there are 37,063 inhabitants per priest, one of the world’s highest figures. In Mexico there are 7,143 inhabitants for every priest, in the United States 5,893, and in Italy 1,059.

The Pope also defended the right of the Church in Cuba to enlighten social life on issues such as “the promotion of human dignity; consideration of the family reality, and the education of new generations in a culture of peace, life and hope.”

The proclamation and application of the Church’s social doctrine is “part of its evangelizing mission and, consequently, of its very identity,” he said.

The Holy Father also encouraged the “spirit of solidarity” that Cuba has manifested with other needy countries, by sending “personnel and material resources” for the “basic needs of several populations” enduring “natural calamities, conflicts, or poverty.”

John Paul II also referred to the economic isolation of Cuba imposed by the United States.

“The Holy See very much hopes that the obstacles which impede free communication and exchange between the Cuban nation and part of the international community be overcome as soon as possible, thus fostering, through respectful dialogue open to all, the conditions necessary for genuine development,” he said.

Havana’s new representative in the Vatican is career diplomat Raul Roa Kouri, who in the past has been ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and to France.

About 55% of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants are Catholic.

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