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Follow the Pope's visit day-by-day:   Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5

Icons at the Crossroads  |  Cuba and Catholicism  |  An Exile Returns
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Pope urges freedom of expression in Cuba

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II   
January 24, 1998
Web posted at: 3:31 p.m. EST (2031 GMT)

SANTIAGO, Cuba (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II on Saturday delivered his most outspoken political message yet of his Cuban visit, calling for freedom of expression and of association.

Addressing tens of thousands of people who gathered for his open-air Mass in Santiago, President Fidel Castro's hometown, the pope said Catholics had "the duty and the right to participate in public debate."

"The good of a nation must be promoted and achieved by its citizens themselves," he said in a homily.

Ceremony highlights
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"In this way each person, enjoying freedom of expression, ... and enjoying appropriate freedom of association, will be able to cooperate effectively in the pursuit of the common good."

The pontiff also said that true freedom "includes the recognition of human rights and social justice." And while the pope said the church was not seeking any type of political power, he said the church nevertheless needed "sufficient freedom and adequate means" to spread its message.

Before the pope's message, Santiago Archbishop Pedro Jeurice attacked the government for its one-party approach to politics -- and was frequently and enthusiastically applauded.

Alluding to Cuba's ruling Communist Party, the archbishop criticized "Cubans who have confused patriotism with a party, the nation with a historical process."

In his welcoming words for the pontiff, Meurice said that after Castro's 1959 revolution, the church was "impoverished" by an "ideological confrontation with Marxism-Leninism intentionally induced by the government."

Pope crowns Virgin of Charity

crowned virgin
Pope John Paul II crowns the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba's most important religious icon   

Also Saturday, the fourth day of his historic visit to the island, the pope crowned the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba's most important religious icon. It is venerated by most Cubans, even atheist supporters of Castro's government.

The small wooden effigy of a Madonna and child is said to have been found floating on a board at sea by three fishermen in 1606. According to legend, her dress was miraculously dry.

The Virgin's shrine at El Cobre, a copper mine 12 miles (19 kms) outside Santiago, is Cuba's most sacred pilgrimage site, where people go to ask for her help in times of distress.

Even Castro's mother, Lina Ruz, pleaded with the Virgin to save her son's life when he was fighting as a guerrilla in the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains in the late 1950s.

The crowning of the statue took place in the city where Castro's revolution was born in a hail of gunfire in 1953 with a brazen but abortive attack on the Moncada army barracks. Afterward, Castro was imprisoned, then exiled.

When Castro declared the tri