Beliefnet News

Efe – February 27, 2008
Havana, Feb 27, 2008 (EFE via COMTEX) — Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone became the first foreign dignitary to be received by Cuba’s new president, Raul Castro.
Bertone and Castro “examined the development of the Cuban government’s relations with the Holy See and the Catholic Church in Cuba” during their meeting Tuesday and discussed “matters of multilateral and international interest,” Cuba’s official AIN news agency said.
The Vatican No. 2 said he relayed to Castro the Catholic Church’s concerns about the political prisoners on the island – said to number about 225 – and their relatives, while also wishing the new president success in his new post.
“With maximum respect for the sovereignty of the country and its citizens, I expressed to President Raul Castro the Church’s concern for the prisoners and their family members,” Bertone said in a statement he read at Havana’s airport before ending his visit Tuesday.
His nearly week-long stay on the communist-ruled island came a decade after the late Pope John Paul II’s historic visit.
The cardinal said that he wished Castro “success” in his “mission at the service of his country” and that he hopes to see “a new boost in the development of relations between the Church and the Cuban government.”
“These relations will always be challenging, but also full of opportunities to promote the common good of the Cuban people,” Bertone said.
The Vatican official was criticized by leaders of the internal opposition for not receiving them and for showing himself to be too close to the government.
Dissident Oswaldo Paya, leader of the banned Christian Liberation Movement, said it was regrettable that Bertone has given an “impression of complacency” with the government that “is unfair” to the people and the Church in Cuba.
“The impression of complacency is unfair to the Cuban people and the Cuban Catholic Church, and it bears repeating that there are political prisoners in Cuba, who are prisoners for defending truth and human rights,” Paya told Efe after confirming that he had not met with Bertone despite asking to do so.
Paya, recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2002, said that “in Cuba there is a small group that during all these years has suffered persecution yet remained firm.”
“We think the image conveyed by the visit does not square with that humble, yet dignified and prophetic, presence of Catholics in Cuba,” the human rights activist said, adding that that is the image “that many people I spoke to came away with.”
Gen. Raul Castro was named Cuba’s new president on Sunday, succeeding his ailing brother, Fidel, who held power for more than 49 years.
The 76-year-old general headed the only list of candidates presented to the National Assembly, which selected the 31 members of the Council of State, Cuba’s most powerful body.
Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959, had been president of the Council of State since its creation in 1976.
Fidel, citing his poor health, resigned as Cuba’s president in a letter published Feb. 19, officially retiring after nearly half a century at the island’s reins.
The 81-year-old Fidel has not appeared in public since July 26, 2006, just five days before he delegated power temporarily to Raul so he could focus on recovering from a serious intestinal illness.
Castro’s illness has been the subject of much speculation abroad and is officially a state secret.
Copyright (C) 2008. Agencia EFE S.A.

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