Reuters blog archive
(Photo: Havana's Catholic cathedral, June 14, 2010/Desmond Boylan)
The Roman Catholic Church will open on Wednesday its first new seminary in Cuba in more than half a century in a further sign of its improving relations with the island's communist-led government.
The seminary replaces a similar school for future priests that was expropriated by Cuba's communist authorities in 1966 and transformed first into a military barracks, then a police academy.
Catholic officials said Cuban President Raul Castro was expected to attend the inauguration -- reflecting the more cordial relations between the Church and the government. Castro turned to the Church this year to serve as an internal interlocutor as he faced growing international pressure over political prisoners and human rights.
Cuban Church leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega negotiated with him the ongoing release of more than 50 political prisoners and, according to Western diplomats, opened an unofficial line of communication between Cuba and the United States, which do not have full formal diplomatic relations.
The Roman Catholic Church has won praise for securing the release of political prisoners in Cuba, raising hopes it can do more to broker reforms on the communist-ruled island and perhaps even help improve U.S.-Cuba ties.
Sidelined for decades by the communist authorities until Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998, the Church has now carved out a visible role as an interlocutor with the government, and as a possible catalyst of change.
A five-day visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, which ended on Sunday, has raised hopes that more political prisoners will be released and the Catholic Church's recent prominence will continue, dissident and church leaders say.
"Really, we are very optimistic about the visit because there could be more releases of our family members. This visit has been very positive," said Berta Soler, a leader in the dissident group "Ladies in White," whose husbands and sons are political prisoners.
from The Great Debate UK:
- Soe Paing is Director of the Office of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, based in the U.S. The opinions expressed are his own. -
The arrest and the filing of criminal charges against Aung San Suu Kyi for alleged violation of house arrest rules under Section 22 of the 1975 State Protection Law or "Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts" indicate that the incumbent military regime in Burma is not interested in the offer of Aung San Suu Kyi's party -- National League for Democracy (NLD) -- to join the elections scheduled for 2010 if certain conditions are met.