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Benedict XVI's secretary of state has brought back a positive report after his six-day pastoral trip to Cuba
The cardinal visited Cuba last week, arriving back in Rome on Tuesday. He stopped in four dioceses, met with the new president, Raúl Castro, and unveiled a bronze statue of Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Bertone's visit marked the 10th anniversary of the Polish Pontiff's apostolic trip to the Caribbean island.

The report on the trip is "without a doubt, positive," the cardinal said. He described the Church in Cuba as "a Church full of life, despite the difficulties with acting in certain circumstances; a Church that is united around its bishops; a beautiful, united episcopal conference; priests and men and women religious that project themselves with a testimony of prayer and spiritual life in a great social action of aid to the poorest and needy, and work with the youth."

"And then, regarding the civil authorities, the review has been positive as well," he said. "I had bilateral meetings with delegations made up of leaders of civil life and the government, and the last day, with the new president, Raúl Castro."

Coincidentally, Cardinal Bertone arrived to the island just after Fidel Castro had announced his resignation. His brother, Raúl, was named to succeed him on Sunday.

"It seems to me," the cardinal continued, "that there are perspectives for joint work of trust in the activity of the Church and the possibility of opening up new spaces to be present."


The Pope's secretary of state said he wanted to leave a central message in the minds of the Cuban people: "To be very close to the people, listen to their aspirations, the desires of this people that has suffered a lot, that has suffered, as we know, because of the economic situations and the restrictions that come from outside, in the economy, in the development of the island.

"But it is a people that continues having great ideals, above all among the youth, who want to re-emerge and want to affirm their identity: a Catholic identity, in large part in the youth. I have experienced this as much in the meetings at the University of Havana, as in the Latin American School of Medicine."

The cardinal continued: "I have also left the message of having confidence in the future, since when everyone is united, they can work for an integral development, for an integral humanism."

Asked about his public condemnation of the embargo as "ethically unacceptable," the cardinal said that this judgment could also be applied to "many restrictions that the European Union still maintains."

"It seems to me that these attitudes naturally seek to try to make the government of the island evolve toward greater liberty, a greater respect for human rights, but I think that these measures that are so hard, taken unilaterally, do not favor development," the cardinal said. "They make the people suffer, because it is the people, the families, the children, the youth, who are penalized with these measures, and they don't recognize the dignity of the nation in its values, in its independence, in its tradition. Thus, they are unacceptable."

He continued: "I have assured that the Holy See will work to try so that at least these sanctions are reduced, or even eliminated. Certainly, this has to come with a development toward greater liberty, toward a greater recognition of personal rights and social rights, as well as political and economic rights.

"But there are also promising prospects, because now, Cuba is preparing itself to sign two U.N. conventions, precisely regarding personal rights, regarding social rights, regarding economic rights, regarding political rights."

The president

Cardinal Bertone spoke of his meeting with Raúl Castro, saying: "I have seen a man who is very realistic, open to discuss everything, and above all, concerned with maintaining values and ideals.

"Naturally I have proposed to President Raúl also the problem of prisoners of all types, not just political prisoners, as well as pastoral attention to the prisoners."

Among the claims made for the Church, the cardinal referred to the lack of permissions to build new churches: "There are communities born at the popular level, especially in the small towns, but without the possibility of getting together in a church; they can only do this in families."

The great hope that he brought to the Pope, the secretary of state said, was the rebirth of these "living communities, that is to say, small communities even though they don't have priests, because there are few priests. But the number of Cuban men and women religious is increasing.

"There is enthusiasm, freshness in the Christian life, above all among the youth."


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