Published: February 13, 2008 21:23h
The Cuban government said on Wednesday that it maintains "excellent" ties with the Vatican 10 years after the late Pope John Paul II's visited the communist-ruled island.
That landmark trip turned the page on four decades of tensions between the Cuban state and the Catholic Church following Fidel Castro's leftist revolution in 1959.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will visit Cuba Feb. 20-26 to to commemorate the 10th anniversary of John Paul II's trip.
"Communication between the Vatican state and Cuba is fluid, cordial and respectful," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said at a news conference.
The most senior Vatican official after the Pope, Bertone is expected to meet with acting President Raul Castro on Feb. 25, one day after a meeting of Cuba's legislature that could ratify him as the next head of state. Ailing Fidel Castro has not appeared in public for more than 18 months.
Perez Roque said religious freedom was guaranteed in Cuba and Catholics had been allowed 1,300 street processions in the last decade, gathering some 500,000 people.
Havana and the Vatican see eye to eye on some international issues such as eradiation of poverty, criticism of capitalist consumer society and opposition to U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba, the minister said.
He recalled John Paul II's condemnation of the American embargo as "oppressive, unjust and ethically unacceptable" as he departed Havana in January 1998.
Catholic Church officials say they have made little progress since the papal visit, and requests for permanent access to the education system and the media have been denied.
The main advances occurred before the papal visit, such as the constitutional reform making Cuba a "secular" instead of an "atheist" state and the reinstating of Christmas as a holiday.
Catholic bishops are sporadically interviewed on local radio stations and the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, was interviewed on state television on Monday.
"The Pope's visit revived the presence of the Catholic Church in Cuba and left closer ties between the Church, Cuban society and the Cuban state," Ortega said.