2010-11-05 14:31:50

Pope's message for Cuba's first seminary in decades

(November 5, 2010) The Catholic Church on Wednesday opened its first new seminary in Cuba in half a century in the latest sign of improving church-state relations after decades of hostility on the communist-led island. President Raul Castro showed his support with his presence at the ceremony on the outskirts of Havana attended by a crowd of about 300 diplomats, church and government officials. Bishops from the Vatican and several other countries, including the United States and Italy, attended the inauguration ceremony. Pope Benedict XVI extended a blessing to all those who "have generously contributed to the construction of this building," Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone said in a message sent on the Pontiff’s behalf to the gathering. The Holy Father said in his message that he hopes the inaugural may be simultaneously “a sign and a stimulus for a renewed commitment to strive for the careful human, spiritual and academic preparation” of those preparing for the priestly ministry. He invited the seminarians to identify themselves with “the sentiments of Christ the Good Shepherd” by means of “assiduous prayer,” serious dedication to study, “humbly” listening to the divine Word, and dignified celebration of the sacraments. He advised them to be “courageous witnesses” to God’s love as “authentic disciples and missionaries of the Gospel of salvation.” The original San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary, where students are trained for the priesthood, was taken over by Cuban authorities in 1966 and turned into a military barracks, then a police academy. The expropriation was just one incident among many as relations between the Church and government quickly soured after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and transformed Cuba into a communist state. After years of tension, things slowly improved following a 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II and advanced significantly this year when Raul Castro, seeking to defuse international criticism, used the Church to broker the release of more than 50 political prisoners.

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