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Associated Press – February 19, 2008
VATICAN CITY – The Vatican’s No. 2 official, on the eve of a trip to Cuba, held out the possibility of a future visit there by Pope Benedict XVI, according to an interview published Tuesday.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, departs for Havana on Wednesday for a weeklong visit to mark the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the communist nation.
Bertone’s interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire appeared on the same day that an ailing Fidel Castro, who welcomed John Paul to Cuba in 1998, resigned as president.
“Up until now it hasn’t been possible,” Bertone said of a possible pilgrimage by Benedict. “In the future we will see,” he said without elaborating.
In separate remarks Tuesday to reporters in Rome, the cardinal said he was bringing the pope’s blessing for all Cubans.
Bertone described Vatican-Cuban relations as “relatively good,” and said the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba enjoyed “great vitality” despite the “known difficulties.”
The interviewer noted the church continues to have problems getting its voice heard in the media, bringing in foreign clergy and freedom of religious education.
“Progress has been made on some of these issues, on others less so,” Bertone said.
There has been no official word on whether Bertone would meet with Fidel Castro during his visit.
Although Cuba was once officially atheist, the government never broke relations with the Vatican and in 1992 dropped all constitutional references to atheism.
John Paul was the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit the island.
Many predicted that his pilgrimage would trigger changes in the island. The pope urged Castro to increase freedom for both the Church and society.
But in the decade that has passed, Cuba’s Catholic Church has made only some gains. Catholic leaders can speak or write in state media at times, but religious schools remain closed as they have been since the early 1960s when hundreds of foreign priests were expelled.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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