Good Friday becomes public holiday

News from Cuba | Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cuba declared Good Friday a public holiday in March following Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island. 

The Pope made this request during a meeting with President Raúl Castro. All religious holidays had been ended after the revolution, although the Christmas Day was reinstated as a national holiday following a similar request made by Pope John Paul II during his visit in 1998. Cuban press reported than the government will later discuss making Good Friday a permanent holiday.

The Pope’s three day visit, described by the Vatican as an evangelical pilgrimage, included masses celebrated by the Pope in Cuba's two largest cities, Santiago and Havana, a visit honouring the island's patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, and meetings with Cuban Catholic Church officials and President Raúl Castro. A brief, last-minute meeting with former President Fidel Castro also took place.

A paid day off work was given to everyone in Havana and Santiago to enable them to attend the masses and 300,000 people attended the event in Revolution Square on 28 March. Many catholic Cuban-Americans travelled to Cuba for the Pope’s visit for the first time since leaving the island for the US, despite calls by right-wing Cuban American politicians for the Pope to cancel his visit.

On the eve of his trip the Vatican denounced the blockade. Answering a question at a briefing about the trip, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi stated: “The Holy See believes that the embargo is something that makes the people suffer the consequences. It does not achieve the aim of the greater good...The Holy See does not believe it is a positive or useful measure.” However he was also critical of the Cuban system stating: “Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality...New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way....we want to help.”

Following these comments, Marino Murillo, Cuba's minister in charge of economic reforms, affirmed that "there will not be political reform in Cuba," but assured that the government "would do everything necessary to update the economic model."

In a respectful send-off, President Raúl Castro in reference to such comments said: "We do not think alike on all matters.”

Sarah Stephens, Executive Director of the Centre for Democracy in the Americas, in Havana for the Pope's visit, stated: “For the Catholic Church in Cuba to have the Pope's blessing now - with the role it is playing, engaging with the Cuban government - is really huge. For the American audience, this is an important opportunity to give a broader US public a lesson about the extent of religious freedom in Cuba and the willingness of the Cuban government to give the Pope a platform to talk about his aspirations for the Cuban people - these things are not anticipated or understood given how cut-off Americans are from the complicated realities of Cuba.”

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