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Papal trip to Cuba possible, Vatican Secretary of State says

.- Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has suggested that Pope Benedict XVI could visit Cuba in the future, the International Herald Tribune reports.

Cardinal Bertone will leave for Havana on Wednesday for a weeklong visit commemorating the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the communist country.

Speaking in an interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, the cardinal spoke of a possible visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict.  "Up until now it hasn't been possible," he said.  "In the future we will see."

The cardinal also spoke to reporters on Tuesday, saying he would bring the Pope’s blessing to all Cubans.  He described Vatican-Cuba relations as “relatively good,” saying the Church in Cuba enjoyed “great vitality” despite the “known difficulties.”

The Church continues to face problems in participating in the media, bringing in foreign clergy, and operating religious education freely.

Cuba was once officially atheist, but the government never ended diplomatic relations with the Vatican and in 1992 dropped all references to atheism from its constitution.

Following Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Cuba visit, in which the Pope called for increased freedom for the Church and for society, many predicted political changes in the country.  Though Catholic leaders now can occasionally speak or write in state media, religious schools remain closed.

There has been no official statement on whether Cardinal Bertone would meet with Fidel Castro, who resigned as president of Cuba on Tuesday.

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