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Cuba tribute to Pope John Paul

No. 2 Vatican official unveils a statue marking papal visit.

February 24, 2008|From the Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, CUBA — The Vatican's No. 2 official unveiled a statue here Saturday commemorating Pope John Paul II's historic trip to Cuba 10 years ago, after hinting that Pope Benedict XVI may make a visit of his own.

Thousands attending an open-air Mass applauded as Roman Catholic Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, pulled off a white cloth to reveal the bronze likeness of a smiling John Paul, waving his right hand and holding his papal staff in the other.

The statue came from Rome as a gift from the Vatican and was placed in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, the site of John Paul's first Mass during his January 1998 trip, the first papal visit to the island nation. It is inscribed: "Open the doors to Christ."

Benedict "charged me with telling all of you that you have a place in the pope's heart," Bertone told worshipers.

The Vatican official arrived in Cuba on Wednesday, one day after Fidel Castro announced that he would step down after nearly half a century as president. Bertone is scheduled to meet with Cuban officials in Havana on Monday, a day after the parliament is to choose Castro's replacement.

On Saturday, a crowd of thousands stretched for 10 blocks down a wide, divided boulevard in Santa Clara. Later in Santiago, Bertone conducted another Mass to pay homage to Cuba's patron saint, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

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