Vatican foreign minister to visit Cuba in June to discuss economic challenges, reconciliation

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vatican foreign minister to visit Cuba in June

HAVANA — The Vatican’s foreign minister is coming to Cuba next month to lead discussions on the island’s economic challenges and the effects of emigration and the families torn apart by it.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Dominique Mamberti will mark Catholic Social Week June 12-20 by leading discussions among church leaders from around the island, as well as elders from other religions, said Orlando Marquez, spokesman for Havana’s Conference of Bishops.

Topics debated will include “the necessity for dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans,” specifically the divide between islanders and those who left for the United States and now form part of the outspoken Cuban-American exile community. Also on the agenda are “the challenges the nation’s economy faces” and “the complexities of today’s Cuban society,” according to a statement from the Havana Archbishop’s Office.

Mamberti is the first top Vatican official to come since Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state to Pope Benedict XVI, visited Cuba in February 2008.

Word of Mamberti’s visit comes as the church has played an increasingly visible role in helping soothe tensions over Cuba’s human rights record — while also raising concerns about economic woes.

Island authorities have pledged to allow a dissident group, the Damas de Blanco, to hold their traditional Sunday march for the rest of May after Cuba Cardinal Jaime Ortega negotiated an agreement. The march had been blocked, provoking ugly standoffs with government counter-protesters, the previous three weeks.

Ortega also made headlines April 19 when he said in an interview with the church’s monthly magazine that Cuba is facing its worst crisis in years, and that its citizens are openly demanding political and social change.

Relations between the church and Cuba’s government have often been strained. Tensions eased in the early 1990s when the government removed references to atheism in the constitution and allowed believers of all faiths to join the Communist Party. They warmed more when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998.

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