HAVANA (CBSMiami/AP) — Good Friday has been declared a holiday in Cuba for the first time in decades following an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Communist government said in a communique Saturday that the decision was made in light of the success of Benedict’s “transcendental visit” to the country, which wrapped up Wednesday. It said the Council of Ministers, Cuba’s supreme governing body, will decide later whether to make the holiday permanent.
Benedict made the appeal during a one-on-one with Cuban President Raul Castro.
Good Friday hasn’t been considered a holiday in Cuba since the early days following the island’s 1959 Revolution.
Benedict’s appeal was reminiscent of his predecessor John Paul II’s 1998 request that Christmas be restored as a holiday. Religious holidays were abolished in the 1960s after brothers Fidel and Raul Castro came to power, ushering in a Marxist government.
Good Friday is the day Catholics commemorate the death of Christ, but it is not a holiday in the United States, most of Europe or even Mexico, the most Catholic of the world’s Spanish-speaking countries.
Cuba removed references to atheism from its constitution in the 1990s, and relations have warmed with the church. Still, less than 10 percent of islanders are practicing Catholics.
Benedict was met by large, but not overwhelming, crowds during his three-day tour. He dismissed Marxism as outmoded even before he arrived, then sprinkled his homilies and speeches with calls for more freedom and tolerance, often as senior members of the government watched from front-row seats. The pope also spoke out against the 50-year U.S. economic embargo, which the Vatican has long opposed.
The Vatican welcomed the decision, saying it hoped it would lead to greater participation in Easter celebrations.
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