Havana – Cuba will greet Pope Benedict XVI on his upcoming visit to the island with "affection and respect," President Raul Castro said Monday at a meeting in Havana with a delegation from the Vatican, state television said.
Gen. Castro welcomed the official announcement of the papal visit at a meeting with the chief organizer of the pope's international travels, Alberto Gasparri, who heads the Vatican delegation currently in Cuba.
"In the course of conversations the excellent state of relations between Cuba and the Holy See was evident as preparations for the visit were discussed," according to a news broadcast on Cuban television showing videos of the meeting.
Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Ortega of Havana, papal nuncio Bruno Musaro and Cuban bishops conference president Dionisio Garcia were among those attending the meeting with Gen. Castro.
Also present were a number of Cuban government officials including Vice President Esteban Lazo, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Cabinet secretary Homero Acosta and Caridad Diego, head of the ruling Communist Party's office of religious affairs.
The pope said at a Mass he officiated Dec. 12 in Rome that he intends to make an apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba before Holy Week, to "proclaim the word of Christ there in the conviction that this is a wonderful time to preach the gospel with sturdy faith, vibrant hope and fervent charity."
The papal visit will coincide with Cuba's Jubilee Year celebrating the 400th anniversary of finding the image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the island's patron saint.
Since last year Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre has been the inspiration of an unprecedented pilgrimage across the country that is now in Havana, where an outdoor Mass on the Avenida del Puerto thoroughfare will bring the devotional journey to an end on Dec. 30.
The trip of 84-year-old Benedict XVI will be the second of a pope to Cuba, which in 1998 welcomed the historic visit of John Paul II.