Cuba is making final preparations for the historic arrival of Pope Benedict. The pontiff’s three-day visit has boosted hopes among some for deeper economic and political change on the communist-run Caribbean island.
Others pray the trip will spark a reversal of fortunes for the popularity of the Roman Catholic church.
Ahead of his arrival he visited recovering drug-addicts in Mexico but he failed to meet with alleged paedophile victims of Catholic priests.
However, in a speech before he took off, he said he prayers went out to all: “I’ve heard from many people about their concerns in this blessed country. Some problems are new while others have existed for a lot longer. I leave, sharing the pain and joy of my Mexican brothers.”
The Communist Party ended its ban on religious believers in 1991, but Cubans generally view predecessor John Paul’s visit as the pivotal moment that led to improved Church-state relations. Expectations, however, are more muted for Benedict’s visit.