Cuba permits first outdoor Catholic Mass in decades
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
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
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.
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.
"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
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