By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, March 28 — Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against “absolute truths” and asked for greater religious freedom in Cuba in an open-air Mass in Havana on Wednesday morning. He followed up the service by meeting with Fidel Castro.
The Pope urged Cubans gathered in the Plaza de la Revolución and watching on TV to pursue truth without trying “to impose it on others.”
To the chagrin of some dissidents, both on the island and abroad, Benedict made few strong public political statements, concentrating on his call for more religious freedom and reconciliation among Cubans.
On Monday, the first day of Benedict’s visit on Monday, Cuba’s economic czar, Marino Murillo, made it clear that any political reforms for the island were not up for discussion. “There will be no political reform,” just the economic “updating” to make the Cuban socialist model “sustainable,” he said.
The Pope asked President Raul Castro in their meeting on Tuesday to make Good Friday a national holiday, like Fidel Castro had reinstated Christmas as a holiday after the previous pope’s visit in 1998.
He also called for advancing on the improvements in religious freedom and Church-State relations made since the visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II.
In this light, Benedict said: “This must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and to advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.”
Any humanitarian requests by the pope to the Cuban authorities took place in private meetings. There was no indication whether he spoke about the situation of alleged political prisoners or US agent Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence for serious crimes committed while he worked for a USAID program seeking regime change on the island.
Speaking at the Mass before a highly organized audience of several hundred thousand, including delegations from Miami, the pope said: “Truth is a yearning of the human being and finding it always assumes the exercise of real freedom.”
The Meeting with Fidel
Pope Benedict, 84, met for a half hour with former Cuban President Fidel Castro, 85, following the Mass, said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
He noted that the meeting took place “with great cordiality” and “centered on diverse topics such as the specific efforts of the pope and today’s environmental problems.”
“It was mainly Fidel who asked the questions,” noted Lombardi.
Castro was excommunicated from the Catholic Church back in 1962, the year when the United States began it’s now half century old economic blockade against Cuba.
The Pope is scheduled to leave Cuba later on Wednesday.