- Pope Benedict requested the holiday during his visit to Cuba last week
- Communist government will decide whether to make Good Friday a permanent holiday
PUBLISHED: 03:52 EST, 1 April 2012 | UPDATED: 03:55 EST, 1 April 2012
Cuba will celebrate next week’s Good Friday for the first time since the 1959 Cuban revolution, following a request from Pope Benedict during his visit to the island, according to state media.
Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to Benedict’s request to recognise the day Christians commemorate Jesus’s crucifixion and has declared the day a public holiday.
Benedict requested the holiday as part of Easter celebrations during a meeting with President Raul Castro in Havana on Tuesday, the Vatican said.
The communist government will decide later whether to make Good Friday a permanent holiday, it said.
Castro’s brother, Fidel, ended religious holidays after leading Cuba’s 1959 communist revolution, though he did reinstate Christmas to honour a request by Pope John Paul during a visit in 1998 – a trip that marked an upturn in relations between Cuba and the Church.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi welcomed the decision by Cuba as a ‘very positive sign’.
‘The Holy See hopes that this will encourage participation in religious celebrations and in happy Easter festivities and that in future, the visit of the Holy Father will continue to bear the desired fruit to the benefit of the Church and all Cubans,’ he said in a statement.
Benedict, whose three day ‘transcendental visit’ to Cuba followed a stop in Mexico, urged change on the island and asked that the Church be able to do more in a time of potentially painful transition.
Raul Castro, who succeeded his older brother as president in 2008, has undertaken economic reforms that will include the slashing of one million jobs from government payrolls.
The Pope spent three days visiting the island, meeting Fidel Castro at the end to call for a bigger role for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuban society.
Rebel leader: Fidel Castro during Cuba’s revolution in 1959, shortly after which he ended religious holidays (right: Brother Raul Castro in the same year)
Benedict met for about half an hour with Fidel Castro, who is a Jesuit-educated altar boy-turned-revolutionary leader.
His 1998 hosting of Pope John Paul II marked a turning point in the church’s relations with Cuba.
Pope Benedict XVI used his visit to Cuba last week to criticise the 50-year-old trade embargo imposed by the U.S..
The Pope claimed the blockade, introduced after Cuba’s Communist revolution in 1959 and strengthened three years later, was an unfair burden on Cuba’s people after the meeting with Fidel Castro.
The Pontiff, who has now arrived back in Rome, made the comments at Havana airport alongside current president, Fidel’s brother Raul, after celebrating Mass in front of huge crowds in Havana.
He said Cubans should be ‘forging a society of wide horizons, renewed and reconciled’.
He added: ‘No one should feel excluded from taking up this exciting search by the limitations of their basic freedoms, or excused from this by indolence or a lack of material resources – a situation which is worsened when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2123485/Cuba-declares-Good-Friday-holiday-Popes-request–53-years-Fidel-Castro-banned-religious-holidays.html#ixzz1qSrv7pa7