Vatican envoy promotes greater role for Cuban Catholic Church
(dpa) - The Vatican's foreign minister celebrated an open-air Mass in the Havana Cathedral plaza on the first day of his state visit to Cuba, expressing the church's desire to expand its role, especially in education.
"The (Catholic) Church wishes to amplify without limits its action into other areas, in order to contribute to the common good," Cardinal Tacisio Bertone said in his homily Thursday.
He also assured the faithful of the "spiritual proximity and breath" of Pope Benedict XVI, who hours earlier had transmitted a personal message to the Bishops' Conference of Cuba.
Bertone said the church "asks to be recognized and respected in its mission, without intent to impose, but to propose the evangelical to all that it encounters in its path."
An official government delegation led by Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Parliament President RIcardo Alarcon attended the Mass, along with the Cuban clergy and thousands of faithful.
Bertone, who is commemorating the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to the Communist-run island 10 years ago, called the church's presence in the Greater Antilles over five centuries as "beneficial," and marked by "intense educational activity, human promotion and respect for the lives of all people."
The papal envoy also held out hope of a future visit by Benedict XVI, which has been requested by the Archbishop of Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
Bertone could be the first foreign dignitary to have an audience with Cuba's new president, widely expected to be Raul Castro, acting head of state and younger brother of Fidel, who announced his retirement earlier this week.
Apart from political meetings, the prelate will also celebrate open-air Masses in Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba and Santa Clara, where he will unveil a monument to the late Juan Pablo II.