Next week’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba “will help the process toward democracy and will open new spaces of presence and activity (for the Catholic Church)” on the Communist-ruled island, the Vatican secretary of state said.
On the eve of the pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba, which begins on Friday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa that he does not believe that the pontiff’s visit will be exploited by the Havana government.
“I don’t think that the visit will be orchestrated by the government. On the contrary, I think that the government and the Cuban people will make the maximum effort to welcome the pope and demonstrate to him their esteem and trust,” Bertone said.
The cardinal added that after the visit of John Paul II to the island in 1998 with his famous message “for Cuba to open itself up to the world and the world to Cuba,” the Catholic Church has been able to take steps toward religious freedom in the communist country and has strengthened the dialogue and cooperation between the Church and the state.
Bertone added that “a concrete possibility exists” for training candidates for the priesthood but that the training situation and the ecclesiastical institutions “still remain to be resolved and faced.”
“But 14 years later and after the visits of different proponents of the Catholic Church, there is no doubt that the visit of Pope Benedict XVI will help the process of development toward democracy and will open up new spaces of presence and activity,” Bertone emphasized.
According to figures provided by the Vatican, there are 17 bishops, 361 priests, 37 monks, 619 nuns and 71 deacons in Cuba.