HAVANA, Cuba, Wednesday April 04, 2012 – Good Friday, April 06, will be celebrated as a public holiday in Cuba for the first time since the early days of the 1959 Cuban Revolution when Fidel Castro abolished religious holidays in that country.
This follows President Raul Castro’s granting of a request by Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s three-day visit to Cuba last week.
The government said in a communiqué that the decision was made in view of the success of Benedict’s “transcendental visit”, adding that the Council of Ministers, Cuba’s supreme governing body, will later determine whether to make Good Friday a permanent holiday.
Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega referred to Benedict’s visit as a “Springtime of faith”. It came 14 years after Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking trip in 1998, which many Cubans say was the beginning of the thaw in church-state relations. During this visit, then President Fidel Castro honoured John Paul’s request to restore Christmas as a public holiday.
While Fidel Castro received the pope warmly in 1998, his brother and current president Raul Castro was even more attentive on this latest papal visit, attending the two Masses celebrated by Benedict, seated in the front row.
“The fact that the Cuban authorities quickly welcomed the Holy Father’s request to President Raul Castro, declaring Good Friday a non-work day, is certainly a very positive sign,” said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi in a statement.
“The Holy See hopes that this will encourage participation in the religious celebrations and joyous Easter festivities, and that following the visit of the Holy Father will continue to bring the desired fruits for the good of the church and all Cubans,” he added.
During his visit to Cuba, Pope Benedict called for change on the communist island.
“Cuba and the world need change,” the pontiff told an estimated crowd of 300,000 at the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.
In his farewell speech at the Jose Marti International Airport, Benedict said he would pray for the nation’s future and that “Cuba will become the house of all and for all Cubans, where liberty and justice can coexist in a climate of serene brotherhood.”