REPORTING FROM HAVANA -- Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday took to Cuba’s largest stage, the Revolution Plaza, and made a forceful plea for religious freedom, praising the communist regime’s initial steps toward allowing public worship but saying the process must be strengthened.
Thousands of Cubans packed into the square to watch the pope lead an open-air Mass, the main event of his historic visit to the island nation. Benedict held private talks with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday and was expected to meet with Fidel Castro later Wednesday before departing for Rome.
“It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly,” the pope said in a homily he read in Spanish.
"Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.”
“The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer,” the pope said.
“Cuba and the world need change,” he added, “but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”
The pope’s first trip to the Spanish-speaking Americas began in Mexico. In Cuba, his message consistently pushed for greater freedom for Cubans, urging them to build “an open society, a better society” and declaring that the Marxist model was outdated and “no longer corresponds to reality.”
-- Ken Ellingwood
Photo: Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims in Havana's Revolution Plaza during an outdoor Mass on Wednesday. Credit: Esteban Felix / Associated Press.