Holy Father hopes for growth of religious freedom in Cuba


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Vatican City, Dec 10, 2009 / 11:17 am (CNA).- The newest ambassador to the Holy See, Cuba's Eduardo Delgado Bermudez, renewed nearly 75 years of continuous relations with the Vatican today when he delivered his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI in a private audience. The Pontiff expressed to the ambassador his hopes for the future of the Cuban people and for seeing continued "concrete signs" of the acceptance of the exercise of religious freedom.

In his address, Pope Benedict highlighted the importance for governments around the world not to forget about the basic needs of the people, despite the current economic crisis.

"The Catholic Church in Cuba, that in these moments, and as always, feels close to the people, wants to contribute with its modest and effective aid," noted Benedict XVI.

Explaining the importance of this mission, the Pontiff quoted from his encycical Caritas in Veritate, "the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity."

Pope Benedict also pointed to the various areas where Cuba is collaborating with other countries, such as health care and literacy, as possible ways that the Caribbean nation might "contribute to fulfilling the call made by my venerated predecessor Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to your island: 'May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.'"

Benedict XVI commended Cuba on its recent steps to help its citizens, referencing the "concrete signs of opening to the exercise of religious freedom" in the country, including allowing the celebration of "Holy Mass in some jails, the realization of religious processions, the reparation and return of some churches and the construction of some religious houses, or the possibility of obtaining social security for priests and religious."

These steps are permitting the Catholic community "to exercise with more freedom its specific pastoral work," which has room to grow, the Pope said.

He invited all people to "rediscover those moral, human and spiritual values ... that make the existence of man more decent."

"In this sense, the principal service that the Church gives to Cubans is the announcement of Jesus Christ and his message of love, forgiveness and reconciliation in the truth.

"A people that walks this path of harmony is a people with hope in a better future."

The Holy Father also alluded to preparations being made for the 400th anniversary celebration of the presence of the "blessed image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Mother and Patron of Cuba," who he called a "luminous symbol of the religiousness of the Cuban people and the Christian roots of its culture."