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HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's Roman Catholic leadership hopes Pope Benedict XVI can visit in 2012, a bishop said Thursday, in what would be the first papal trip to Cuba since John Paul II came in 1998.

Monsignor Emilio Aranguren, bishop of the eastern province of Holguin, said "it's our hope, our interest, that the pope come to Cuba in the year 2012," the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Cuba's patron saint.

"It's up to the Holy See," he said. The Vatican had no immediate comment.

In 1612, three men from the eastern copper mining town of El Cobre found a diminutive wooden statue floating off the coast bearing the label, "I am the Virgin of Charity." She was declared patron saint in 1916.

Aranguren's comments came at a briefing on the activities of Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, who is in Havana to mark Catholic Social Week. He said Mamberti's visit has nothing to do with a possible papal visit.

In 1998, John Paul II made the first papal trip to Cuba. The Vatican's No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, visited the island a decade later.

Cuba never broke ties with the Vatican, even when the island was officially atheist after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

The government removed references to atheism in the 1991 constitution and allowed religious believers to join the Communist Party.


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