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Cuba's Raul Castro meets the cardinal

May 20, 2010 | 12:52 pm

Castro

A rare meeting has taken place between Raul Castro, Cuba's communist president, and the head of the Roman Catholic Church on the island nation.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and other leaders of the church discussed "issues of mutual interest" with Castro, official Cuban media reported. The encounter occurred Wednesday but wasn't reported until now. Cuba's Granma newspaper carried a photograph of Castro, in military green, shaking hands with Ortega and Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, head of the Cuban Bishops Conference. The BBC quoted church sources as saying the leaders talked about imprisoned dissidents with an eye to next month's visit to Cuba of the Vatican's foreign secretary, Dominique Memberti. 

Ortega is widely credited with easing tensions over a recent slew of anti-government protests. The Cuban-born cardinal, who is also archbishop of Havana, brokered a deal between authorities and the female relatives of political prisoners that allowed the so-called Ladies in White to resume weekly demonstrations free of harassment.

Bishops Conference spokesman Jose Felix Perez told Reuters: "This is the first time the conference has had such a high-level meeting," adding, "It was especially relevant in the context that the church has recently been working to mediate solutions to a number of difficulties in society."

Relations between the church and Cuba's leaders were strained for years but have improved since the 1990s, especially after the government loosened restrictions on religion and Pope John Paul II visited the island in 1998.

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Cuban President Raul Castro meets with Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop Dionisio Garcia in Havana. Credit: Granma.

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