Vatican cardinal heads to Cuba

A Vatican cardinal is heading to Cuba this week, saying he will stress Pope Benedict XVI's recent message that the Catholic Church cannot remain on the political sidelines in the fight for social justice. Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican's pontifical council for justice and peace, leaves Wednesday for Havana to present a compendium of the church's social doctrine. In a statement, he said he hoped to have a meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, though there was no confirmation.

In his first encyclical released Jan. 25, Benedict said the church had no interest in taking the place of government in creating a more just social order. But he wrote that the church can't remain on the sidelines in the search for justice, either. Martino said that message would be the "leit motiv" of his visit to Cuba, as well as his subsequent travels to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Communist Cuba became officially atheist in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power, but the government removed references to atheism in the constitution more than a decade ago and allowed religious believers to join the Communist Party.

Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Vatican remained intact over the decades. Relations between churches and the Cuban state climaxed in January 1998 when Pope John Paul II visited, the first and only trip to the island by a Roman Catholic pope, reports the AP.


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