When Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, he called for the island nation “to open to the world and for the world to open to Cuba.”
Pope Benedict XVI now will walk in that wider doorway.
The official reason for the trip is pastoral. Just weeks before his 85th birthday, Benedict is mustering his strength to bring encouragement to the Cuban flock after his first stop in Mexico this week.
The pope will bless the patroness of Cuba, La Caridad, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, on the 400th anniversary of her statue found floating in the sea.
Experts say his two-day visit to Cuba benefits the Vatican with increased opportunity to promote the faith in a country that once imprisoned priests, confiscated church property, shuttered religious schools and deprived active Catholics of education and job opportunities.
In turn, the visit benefits the Castro brothers — ailing revolutionary Fidel and his now-ruling brother Raul — who know the Roman Catholic Church has always opposed the half-century-old U.S. trade embargo.