The Cuban Catholic Church said Monday that it hopes the government will receive with a "positive spirit" its pastoral letter asking for political changes and for the acceptance of pluralism and a diversity of opinions.

"Our wish is that this letter be read and interpreted in the same spirit with which it was written: a positive, constructive spirit of service, a desire to open horizons of hope," bishops conference spokesman the Rev. Jose Felix Perez told the international media.

The bishops circulated Sunday in churches and on its Web site a pastoral letter urging that the economic reforms undertaken on the Communist-ruled island be accompanied by a greater openness on the political side.

This is the most significant pastoral letter to be issued in Cuba since 1993, when the bishops published a critical appraisal at the worst moments of the "special period" the island endured after the end of subsidies from the former Soviet Union.

That 1993 missive "marked an important moment in the public life of the church in society," Perez said Monday.

Twenty years later and in the context of the "economic modernization" undertaken by President Raul Castro, the bishops admit that "some changes" are taking place in Cuba, but see them as "slow, few and not very substantial."

For that reason, the church wishes that "the beginning of changes in the economic sphere be accompanied by political changes as well, by a greater openness and acceptance of groups and people who have ideas different from the official ones and that must be heard," Perez said.

Asked whether the church is calling for democratic elections in Cuba, the spokesman acknowledged that it would be "a little utopian" to imagine such a possibility in the short term. EFE