Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the altar to celebrate Mass at Bicentennial Park in Silao, Mexico, March 25. The pope was on a six-day pastoral visit to Latin America with stops in central Mexico and Cuba. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Cuban official says government wants dialogue with Pope

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • March 25, 2012

HAVANA - Cuba's foreign minister said his government is looking forward to welcoming Pope Benedict XVI and exchanging points of view with him, even after the Pope used his in-flight news conference to criticize Marxist ideology.

Bruno Rodriguez, the foreign minister of Cuba's communist government, was asked about the pope's remarks March 23 during the opening of the Havana press center for the papal visit.

"We are looking forward to an exchange of ideas" during the pope's visit March 26-28, he said.

The Cuban people have developed their government over a long history of "struggles for freedom and against slavery," he said. The struggles include what "Pope John Paul II described as unjust and ethically unacceptable economic measures imposed from the outside," Rodriguez said, referring to the U.S. economic embargo, which began in 1962.

"The social project of Cuba ... is open to an exchange of ideas. It is a democratic and coherent social project," Rodriguez said.

"Freedom is one of the supreme values of our culture and our people -- the freedom and dignity of the people," he said.

But Pope Benedict, during his flight March 23 from Italy to Mexico, responded to a question about the arrest of Cuban dissidents by saying, the "church is always on the side of freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion."

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"Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to the truth today, we can no longer respond this way to construct a society," the Pope said on the plane.

However, he added that the "path of collaboration and constructive dialogue," which Blessed John Paul initiated with Cuba's communist regime, "is long and demands patience."

"We want to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid traumas and to help move toward a fraternal and just society" in Cuba, Pope Benedict said.

Rodriguez, the Cuban foreign minister, told reporters Cubans would welcome Pope Benedict with affection and would listen to him "with all respect."

But he also said Cuba "has had to defend its sovereignty and independence under the most difficult circumstances. ... We have struggled and continue to struggle for a free people."

After Rodriguez opened the papal visit press centers in Havana and Santiago de Cuba -- the first city on the pope's Cuban itinerary -- Cuban television began broadcasting special programs about the papal visit and the Catholic Church in Cuba. The specials kicked off with a piece on the Seminary of San Carlos and San Ambrosio outside Havana.

By March 23, when the program aired, a dozen of the 52 seminarians had already headed to Santiago de Cuba to participate in the Mass there. The other seminarians were going to rehearsals and organizational meetings for the Mass and other papal events in Havana, according to officials at the seminary.

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