Pope accepts invitation to visit Cuba
November 19, 1996
Web posted at: 1:20 p.m. EST (1820 GMT)
From Correspondent Brent Sadler
ROME (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II plans a historic trip to
Cuba, probably sometime next year, Vatican officials said
Tuesday. The pope accepted Cuban President Fidel Castro's
invitation to visit the island, extended during the Cuban
private audience at the Vatican Tuesday morning.
After the meeting, the Vatican issued a communiqué calling
for normalization of conditions for the Roman Catholic Church
and its members in the communist nation.
In a news conference following the meeting, Vatican spokesman
Joaquin Navarro-Walls said no specific time frame for
the visit was set, but the visit could be added to an
already planned trip to South America in October 1997.
Navarro-Walls described the 35-minute meeting between the two
leaders as warm and cordial and said the two exchanged
Castro's solemn entrance into the Vatican Tuesday morning
broke a diplomatic impasse between Cuba and the Roman
Catholic Church that has lasted for nearly 40 years. Castro
and Pope John Paul II -- at opposite ends of the spectrum on
such issues as religious freedom, democracy, human rights
and birth control -- have reached out in an attempt to
The meeting came as the two found common ground in their
opposition to trade sanctions, specifically the
34-year U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Castro welcomed the pope's recent attack on such
sanctions, which in turn opened the door for Tuesday's
meeting, and Castro's subsequent invitation for the pope to
come to the only Latin American country he hasn't visited.
"Time is ripe," said Vatican journalist Marco Politi. "The
pope wants to go to Cuba to demonstrate that ... all Latin
America is a field for the action of the church."
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Tuesday's meeting was perhaps the pope's most significant
with a world leader since he met with then-Soviet General Secretary
Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989. Coincidentally, on the eve of his
meeting with Castro, the pope met again for the fourth time
with Gorbachev, whose reforms led to his own downfall and the
collapse of Soviet-style communism in eastern Europe.
Fidel Castro's 40-year revolution still survives,
and he remains as committed as ever to the communist system.
But improved relations with the Vatican could carry the risk
of increased pressure to reform.
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