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Cuba permits first outdoor Catholic Mass in decades

close June 29, 1997
Web posted at: 9:42 p.m. EDT (0142 GMT)

From Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman

HAVANA (CNN) -- Sunday's annual Mass in Havana's Cathedral Square, honoring saints Peter and Paul, was no ordinary service.

For the first time in 36 years, Cuba's Communist rulers allowed the Roman Catholic Church to hold a Mass outdoors, a practice outlawed shortly after the country's 1959 revolution.

Sunday's Mass was seen as the first of many dress rehearsals for the visit of Pope John Paul II in January, the first ever visit by a pontiff to Cuba.

The papal visit has awakened great expectations in Cuba, where in the last five years the ranks of believers have risen as sharply as the economy has plunged.

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After years of trying to suppress the Catholic Church, the government's decision to allow the public outdoor Mass is seen by the church as a good omen. And how the government evaluates these dress rehearsals may determine whether or not to make a major concession to the church -- live nationwide television broadcasts of the pope's visit.

"We hope this will mark a new beginning -- that the good results of this experience will make it possible to have more public services in the near future," said Monsignor Jose Perez, part of a commission helping to plan the papal visit.

The government considers broadcast of the papal visit risky. So perhaps it was not surprising that Sunday's Mass was, above all else, conciliatory.

vxtreme Cuba holds its first open-air Mass in over 30 years

"We are sure that the pope's visit will give us all strength, in the truth of God's love, and it will spread in the hearts of all Cubans the seeds of love," said Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

For the hundreds of worshippers who attended this first symbolic outdoor Mass, that sense of hope is already being felt.

 
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