Pope Benedict’s visit to draw massive crowds in Havana

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to preside over huge crowds during Mass in the Cuban capital’s Revolution Plaza on Wednesday, where 14 years ago Pope John Paul II addressed throngs of onlookers in the historic first papal visit to the island nation, David Ariosto reports for CNN.

The closely-watched trip is only its second papal visit and is also the second part of a two-country tour Benedict has used to spread the Catholic faith and address political issues — at times subtly, and on occasions more overtly.

He first traveled to Mexico, denouncing the violence-plagued drug wars in that country and then drew added attention in Cuba when he said he prayed “for those deprived of freedom.”

Last week, while on a plane from Rome to Mexico, the pontiff also said he believes that Cuba’s Marxist political system “no longer corresponds to reality.”

A top Cuban government official responded to the pope’s comments Tuesday, saying his country’s system is sustainable and that it will not change.

“In Cuba, there will not be political reform,” said Marino Murillo, vice president of the island’s council of ministers.

Earlier Tuesday, Benedict flew from the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba to Havana, where he met Cuban President Raul Castro.

Church officials say Benedict may also meet with former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, who stepped down from power in 2006 after suffering from illness.

Havana officials, meanwhile, have been busy planning for the pontiff’s arrival, painting buildings and tacking posters across the city, while taking added security measures around the capital.

Also arriving on the island over the weekend was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, reported by Cuban state television to be in Cuba for radiation treatment for cancer, though it is not clear if Chavez was to meet with the pontiff.

Benedict, 84, arrived in Santiago de Cuba on Monday, later heading to the city’s Basilica del Cobre where he prayed in front of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, a wooden statue considered to be the shrine of the island’s patron saint.

Upon his arrival, he was greeted by the Cuban leader and the country’s clergy, including Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

“I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be,” Benedict said.

For the original report go to http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/28/world/americas/cuba-pope-visit/index.html

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