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(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.
An Istanbul seminary closed in 1971 is hosting its first public event in 40 years, raising hopes it may shortly be reopened by Turkey and once again educate priests for the Greek Orthodox community.
The European Union and the United States have pressed EU membership hopeful Turkey to reopen the historic school, which occupies a beautiful and commanding site at the top of the island of Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, off the Istanbul shoreline.
The silent halls and empty classrooms tended by elderly priests at a former Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off the Istanbul coast belie the crucible the school has become in Muslim Turkey's quest to join the European Union.
The EU has said re-opening Halki seminary, a centre of Orthodox scholarship for more than a century until Turkey closed it down in 1971, is crucial if Ankara is to prove a commitment to human rights and pluralism and advance its membership bid.