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First Catholic seminary in half century opens in Cuba

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Raul Castro was in attendance at opening ceremony
  • A greeting from Pope Benedict XVI was read aloud
  • Inauguration comes after the Catholic Church helped broker release of political prisoners

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- The Catholic Church opened its first seminary in Cuba in more than 50 years on Wednesday, with President Raul Castro in attendance.

The inauguration of the school outside of Havana was evidence of just how far relations between the communist government and the Catholic Church have come in recent years.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a greeting that was read aloud to the gathering of Catholic and government officials.

Castro accompanied Cardinal Jaime Ortega on a tour of the seminary.

The inauguration comes after the Catholic Church helped broker Cuba's biggest release of political prisoners in a decade, a process that is ongoing.

Although Cuba never severed ties with the Vatican, some Catholic Church officials were expelled after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, and relations were tense.

Tensions eased in the 1990s, culminating with the visit of the late Pope John Paul II in 1998.

CNN's Shasta Darlington contributed to this report.