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 CNS Story:

CUBA-BERTONE Feb-20-2008 (260 words) xxxi

Cardinal says he hopes for new level of church relations with Cuba

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the eve of his visit to Cuba, a leading Vatican official said he hoped to establish a new level of church-state relations in the Caribbean nation.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, made the remarks to reporters Feb. 19, the same day Fidel Castro resigned as president of Cuba.

Cardinal Bertone said he was taking a special blessing from Pope Benedict XVI to all Cubans, including Castro. The cardinal was to visit several cities in Cuba and meet with government officials Feb. 20-26.

He said church-state relations in Cuba were complex but had a promising future.

"Relations are generally good," he said. "There are problems. We hope to establish a working dialogue that gives positive results and that is maintained."

Cardinal Bertone said Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998 brought some small steps forward for the church.

In 2005, when dialogue had stalled, Cardinal Bertone traveled to Cuba and pressed Castro to resume regular talks with the Cuban bishops' conference. A few months later, he said, the government and the bishops had a long meeting.

"I hope that my visit this time will also bring some good results," he said.

In an interview published by the Italian newspaper Avvenire, before the announcement of Castro's resignation, Cardinal Bertone said he would not exclude the possibility that Pope Benedict could eventually visit Cuba.

"Until now it has not been possible. In the future, we shall see," he said.

END


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