In statements to the state-run television, the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, said the visit by John Paul II in1998 increased the presence of the Church in the country and led to “closer relations between the Church, society and the Cuban State.”
In an unusual appearance on state-run media, Cardinal Ortega remembered the visit by John Paul II noting “he was received with great affection by the people and given an excellent welcome by the leaders of the nation.”
The cardinal pointed out that the upcoming visit by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on February 20 is a response “to an invitation by the Cuban State and the Church in Cuba.” His presence will revive “the visit of the Pope in a human sense for all of our people.”
Cardinal Bertone will remain in the country until February 26. As part of his schedule, he will inaugurate a monument dedicated to John Paul II that has been built in Santa Clara, where the late pontiff celebrated his first Mass on Cuban soil.
According to local officials, the cardinal will also meet with provisional President Raul Castro.
After Pope John Paul II’s visit, the Church was given greater access to prisons and the Christmas holiday was re-established. However, religious education is still not allowed and the Church has no access to the media.