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VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican’s foreign secretary ended a five-day trip to Cuba with a “cordial, respectful and continuous” talk with President Raul Castro on Sunday (June 20).
The meeting between Castro and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti underscored the increasingly significant role of the Catholic Church in the communist nation and prompted local hopes of a papal visit in 2012.
Timing his visit to mark the 10th Catholic Social Week in Cuba and the 75th anniversary of Cuba-Vatican relations, the two men discussed an “international agenda,” with promoting dialogue between Cubans — on the island and in the U.S. — at the heart of the agenda.
“A secular state does not mean marginalizing or rejecting its religious dimension,” said Mamberti. “A state should recognize the central role that religious freedom plays and promote it positively.”
The Catholic church has been increasingly influential in winning political concessions in recent years. Ahead of the visit, Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega had negotiated the release of a sick prisoner, transfers for 12 inmates and better medical care in jails.
The visit ended with hopes for more privileges for 190 other political prisoners following Mamberti’s trip — the most important visitor from Rome since Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s visit two years ago.
“It’s our hope, our interest, that the pope come to Cuba in the year 2012,” Cuban Bishop Emilio Aranguren said, 14 years after Pope John Paul II’s historic visit and about 400 years after the discovery of a statue of Cuba’s patron saint, Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity).
— Richard Allen

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