Last Updated: 7:36 PM, March 28, 2012
HAVANA — Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday wrapped up a visit to Cuba with
a call for respect of "basic freedoms," pursuing his persistent prodding
of the island's Communist authorities to embrace change.
After an open-air Mass in Havana's Revolution Square and a meeting with
revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, the 84-year-old pontiff used a final
public appearance at the airport in the Cuban capital to convey his message.
With President Raul Castro looking on, the pope said he hoped the "light
of the Lord" would help Cubans build a "society of broad vision, renewed
Pope Benedict XVI meets Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana.
"May no one feel excluded from taking up this exciting task because of
limitations of his or her basic freedoms," Benedict said.
He added that he hoped Cuba would one day be the home "for all Cubans,
where justice and freedom coexist in a climate of serene fraternity" --
perhaps a reference to Cuban exiles, many of whom live in the US.
Benedict also rounded on the half-century-old US economic embargo on
Cuba, saying such "restrictive economic measures imposed from outside
the country unfairly burden its people."
The pontiff, who was making the first papal visit to Cuba in 14 years at
the end of a larger Latin American tour, was seeking to bolster the
Church's ties with authorities in Havana, and to encourage new and
renewed faith in the mainly secular island nation.
But he was also trying to forward a subtle message for change -- even
though Vice President Marino Murillo insisted Tuesday there would be "no
"Cuba and the world need change, 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 pontiff told the crowd of some
500,000 people packed into Revolution Square, including the president.
Hailing the government's granting of freedom of religion since 1998,
Benedict said Cubans' quests for truth generally should also respect
"the inviolable dignity of the human person."
His comment seemed an oblique reference to dissidents pressing for
political opening in the Americas' only one-party, Communist country.
Dozens were rounded up and arrested during the pope's visit, dissident
Human rights groups such as the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and
National Reconciliation have had their phone lines cut since Monday. The
cell phones of prominent activists were also unreachable, Amnesty
The pope scheduled no meeting with dissident leaders, a big
disappointment for them.
Shortly after celebrating Mass, Benedict -- leader of the world's 1.2
billion Roman Catholics -- met with 85-year-old Fidel Castro for about
30 minutes, a Vatican spokesman said.
The aging revolutionary leader, clad in a dark track suit and plaid
shirt, and with his physician son Antonio steadying him, asked the pope
about liturgical changes and papal responsibilities, the spokesman added.
"I am old, but I still can do my duty," Castro was quoted as joking.
At the airport in Havana, Cuba's president, Raul Castro, bid farewell to
the pope, saying the visit had been held "in an atmosphere of mutual
Catholics account for some 10 percent of Cuba's population of about 11
million. The country was officially atheist for almost four decades