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As Cuba frees political prisoners, Fr. Lombardi confirms Vatican support

.- Holy See spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi reflected on the recent "good news" from Cuba during this week's "Octava dies" editorial on Vatican Television. He confirmed the Holy See's support for the Cuban Church and spoke of the "important progress" that has been made towards John Paul II's vision of open relations between the Caribbean nation and the world.

Fr. Lombardi said that the liberation of 52 political prisoners and the end of journalist Guillermo Fariñas' hunger strike are "good news" and "significant signs that we hope might indicate stable progress towards that climate of renewed social and political coexistence that we all wish for the Cuban nation."

The announcement of the release of the prisoners, jailed in March of 2003, came in a statement from the Archbishop of Havana's office on July 7 following talks between Raul Castro, Cardinal Archbishop of Havana Jaime Ortega Alamino and Spain's foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

In the days following the original announcement, the same office released the names of 17 prisoners who "have accepted the proposal to leave prison and move to Spain" and would be released "soon." Six other prisoners are also set to be transferred to provincial prisons closer to their families.

The July 7 press release included the information that all 52 would be freed in the next two or three months.

Reflecting on the progress, Fr. Lombardi praised the "crucial role" played by church leaders, namely the Archbishop of Havana and the bishops' conference president, Archbishop of Santiago Dionisio Garcia, in the dialogue process. He said that the archbishops' ability to negotiate with the government is linked to "the evident fact that the Catholic Church is profoundly rooted in the people and a reliable interpreter of its spirit and its expectations."

The Church, he explained, "is not a foreign reality, it does not flee in times of difficulty. It takes on suffering and hopes, with dignity and patience ... the continuous commitment to opening the road to understanding and to dialogue."

The Holy See, he added, "in its spiritual solidarity and international authority, accompanies and supports the Cuban Church.

"From John Paul II's visit to the recent visits of Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and of Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, to the diplomatic contacts in the Vatican on the situation in Cuba, the Holy See has always shown itself to be contary to the embargo and so sympathizing with the suffering of the people and ready to support every prospect of constructive dialogue."

He recalled John Paul II's powerful words during his 1998 journey to the island, "Let Cuba open up to the world and let the world open up to Cuba!" and concluded with the observation that, "wiith patience, important progress has been made in this direction. We all hope that this path continues."

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