Pope prays for prisoners in shrine to Cuban patroness
Mar 27, 2012, 17:44 GMT
Havana/Santiago, Cuba - Pope Benedict XVI prayed Tuesday for 'those who are deprived of freedom' as he visited the shrine to Cuba's patron saint near the city of Santiago before travelling to Havana.
On the second day of a three-day visit to Cuba, the pope again called for 'renewal' in communist Cuba, at the shrine to Our Lady of Charity.
'I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans,' he said.
The German-born Benedict flew soon afterwards to Havana, 900 kilometres away, where he met with Cuban President Raul Castro in what was described by the Vatican as a courtesy visit.
No details of the meeting were made public, although Cuban television showed the two men sitting in white armchairs for their private talk. Earlier, Benedict was seen introducing to Castro officials of the Cuban Roman Catholic Church.
The pope and his host met Monday in Santiago, as Castro welcomed Benedict at the airport and then attended the open-air mass the pontiff celebrated before a large crowd in a Santiago square.
'I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty,' the pontiff said after his visit to the shrine.
Observers took his words as an implicit reference to political prisoners, although the pope did not specify this.
Cuban dissidents and organizations for the defence of human rights, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, accuse Cuban authorities of holding political prisoners. Cuba denies this and says all prisoners on the island have violated the country's common laws.
Human rights organizations have also denounced in recent days a wave of arrests in Cuba to prevent opposition activists from attending Benedict's visit.
The pope's prayers included Cubans of African descent, and 'the nearby people of Haiti, who still suffer the consequences of the earthquake of two years ago.'
Benedict visited the shrine as a pilgrim, praying in private for about 10 minutes before lighting a candle to the so-called Virgen Mambisa.
The 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin Mary is the official occasion for the papal visit.
Benedict had spent the night in a house near the shrine, which is in the town of El Cobre, about 20 kilometres from Santiago.
Benedict is to hold a second open-air mass Wednesday on Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion. The service has been billed as the main event of the papal visit to Cuba, which is to end after the mass.
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