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Follow the Pope's visit day-by-day:   Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5

Icons at the Crossroads  |  Cuba and Catholicism  |  An Exile Returns
Testing the Embargo  |  Live Webcasts  |  The Struggling Revolution  |  Related links

Pope prepares to sit down with Castro

Pope John Paul II

Mass, meeting with Cuban leader Thursday

January 22, 1998
Web posted at: 12:05 a.m. EST (0505 GMT)

HAVANA (CNN) -- After being formally welcomed to Cuba Wednesday by President Fidel Castro, Pope John Paul II is preparing for a sit-down meeting Thursday evening with the Cuban communist leader.

But first, the pope will travel Thursday morning to the provincial city of Santa Clara to say Mass at a sports field, the first major public event during his five-day sojourn to Cuba. The service is scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m.

He will return to Havana in the afternoon and is scheduled to meet with Castro in the Palace of the Revolution at 6 p.m.

The pope's historic visit to the Caribbean island began Wednesday, with John Paul's arrival at Jose Marti International Airport. In remarks upon arrival, the pope said he was coming to Cuba as "a pilgrim of love, of truth and of hope.".

An Alitalia jet carrying the pope landed just before 4 p.m. (2100 GMT). John Paul emerged about 10 minutes later, waving to the crowd and walking slowly down to the bottom of the stairs, where he was greeted by President Fidel Castro.

A group of four children carried a basket of Cuban soil to John Paul so that he could hold it up to his lips and kiss it, a customary welcoming gesture for the pope during his international journeys.

In the early years of his papacy, John Paul would bend to kiss the tarmac upon arrival. But the ceremony has been altered somewhat in recent years because of his increasingly frail health.

Castro's speech
The pope's speech
The Pope arrives in Cuba
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Castro, wearing a business suit and tie with polka dots instead of his customary green fatigues, shook hands with the pope before a cheering, flag-waving crowd which had gathered along the tarmac. The crowd included a military honor guard, members of the Catholic clergy and Havana's diplomatic corps.

Castro and the pope then proceeded to a nearby stage where the national anthems of Cuban and the Vatican were played, and each gave a short speech.

Pope stresses pastoral nature of visit

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John Paul, speaking with a strong voice in Spanish, stayed away from overt political themes, instead emphasizing that his trip is pastoral, designed to strengthen the Catholic church and faithful in Cuba.

"I come as a pilgrim of love, of truth and of hope, with the desire to give a fresh impulse to the work of evangelization," he said. "Do not be afraid to open your hearts to Christ. Allow him to come into your lives, into your families, into society. In this way, all things will be made new."

He also expressed his "admiration" for Cubans who kept the faith, even in the years when the Castro regime actively discouraged citizens from attending church.

"The church in Cuba has always proclaimed Jesus Christ even if at times ... it has had to do so in difficult circumstances," he said.

Castro: U.S. embargo 'total suffocation'

In contrast to the pope's mostly apolitical remarks, Castro offered a very political defense of the principles of the Cuban revolution, outlining the struggle of the Cuban people against first Spanish imperial conquest and later dictatorship.

"You, as a son of Poland ... can understand this better than anyone," Castro said to the pope.

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He went on to launch an attack on the evils of poverty, discrimination and unfettered capitalism. He also targeted the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, calling it "total economic suffocation."

Using the analogy of how the Roman empire fed Christians to the lions, Castro pointed out that the United States is more powerful than Rome was during that time.

He also defended his government's actions toward Catholics and other people of religious faith, insisting that the Cuban constitution provides "respect for believers and non-believers alike."

"If there have ever been difficulties, the revolution has not been to blame," Castro said.

Pope's first visit to Cuba

This is John Paul's first visit to Cuba, a nation which, between its 1959 revolution and the 1990s, actively discouraged the practice of religion. Those restrictions have been eased in recent years, and Cuba has been officially secular, rather than atheist, since 1992.

The Polish-born pope has been an outspoken opponent of communism; his host, Castro, is one of the last world leaders maintaining a communist political system.

But the Cuban regime, seeking better international relations, has been actively promoting the papal visit, taking the unprecedented step of guaranteeing workers time off with pay to attend papal Masses.

Each morning, the pope will travel to a provincial city -- Santa Clara, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba -- for an open-air Mass.

On Sunday, he will officiate at a Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution, an event that may draw a half-million or more Cubans -- the grand finale for a week that many here hope will change their country forever.

Pope tells reporters embargo must 'change'

During a brief meeting with reporters on the way to Havana, John Paul urged the United States "to change" the long-standing economic embargo imposed on Cuba after Castro took power. He also told reporters that while Castro's revolution has improved education and health in Cuba, that the regime needs to make "progress in the order of human freedom."

However, in his remarks at the airport, the pope broached those issues only indirectly.

"My best wishes are joined with a prayer that this land may offer to everyone a climate of freedom, mutual trust, social justice and lasting peace," he said. "May Cuba ... open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba."

Correspondents Lucia Newman and Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.

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Follow the Pope's visit day-by-day:   Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5

Icons at the Crossroads  |  Cuba and Catholicism  |  An Exile Returns
Testing the Embargo  |  Live Webcasts  |  The Struggling Revolution  |  Related links

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