Pope Benedict visits Cuba as 'pilgrim of charity'

Pope in Cuba
Images of Pope Benedict XVI, by the French-Italian artist Gaspare Di Caro, are projected on the facade of the cathedral in Havana. Photo: AP Photo/Franklin Reyes

Pope Benedict XVI said he came as a "pilgrim of charity"as he arrived in Cuba yesterday.

President Raul Castro warmly greeted the Pope as he arrived at the sweltering airport in Santiago, Cuba's second largest city.

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Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hand with the Pope at an airport in Santiago. Credit: AP Photo/Ismael Francisco

The pontiff, who last week said Marxism "no longer responds to reality," gave a more gentle tweak to his hosts by expressing sympathy for all islanders, including prisoners.

Pope
The streets of Santiago were lined with onlookers desperate for a papal glimpse. Credit: AP Photo/Desmond Boylan

I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be.

Those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need.

– Pope Benedict XVI
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Cubans wave and cheer as the Pope is driven past. Credit: AP Photo/Desmond Boylan

In his own remarks, the Cuban leader assured Benedict his country favours complete religious freedom and has good relations with all religious institutions.

Pope in Cuba
Pope Benedict XVI sits as Cuba's President Raul Castro speaks during his welcome ceremony. Credit: AP Photo/Javier Galeano

"The Cuban Constitution consecrates and guarantees total religious freedom for all citizens," he said.

He also criticised the 50-year-old US economic embargo and defended the socialist ideal of providing for those less fortunate.

We have confronted scarcity but have never failed in our duty to share with those who have less.

– President Raul Castro

Benedict's three-day stay in Cuba will inevitably spark comparisons to John Paul II's historic 1998 tour, when Fidel Castro traded his army fatigues for a suit and tie to greet the Pope at Havana's airport and where John Paul uttered the now-famous words: "May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba."

In his remarks 14 years ago, John Paul singled out Cuban political prisoners jailed for their ideas, something Benedict did not do in today's speech.