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