Cardinal Bertone: Cuba Proves Dialogue Works

Secretary of State Discusses Reason for Upcoming Visit

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 19, 2008 ( Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict XVI's secretary of state, says that Cuba is proof that sincere dialogue always gives fruits.

The cardinal affirmed this in an interview printed today by the Italian daily Avvenire regarding the prelate's upcoming trip to the island nation. Cardinal Bertone's seven-day trip, beginning with his arrival Wednesday evening, will mark the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's apostolic journey to the island nation.

Meanwhile in Cuba today, President Fidel Castro announced he will not seek or accept another term, when parliament meets on Sunday. Thus the 81-year-old's half-century rule of the Caribbean island has come to an end.

In the interview with Avvenire, Cardinal Bertone agreed that his has drawn, above all from the press, a lot of attention. He admitted that this attention has surprised him, saying it is to be expected that the secretary of state goes "on mission" to the nations of the world.

"I do not think of my activities in a geopolitical key, but rather in an ecclesial one," Cardinal Bertone said. "And this trip is no exception; neither are those I will shortly take to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"I go to Cuba above all to visit the local Church, which, despite well known difficulties, enjoys a great vitality. Obviously the visit is taking place thanks to an invitation, particularly warm, from the civil authorities, as well as the episcopal conference."

Holy See relations

Asked about relations between Cuba and the Holy See, Cardinal Bertone said: "Now, they are relatively good, as both sides recognize.

"No one denies that in the past, there have been difficulties. But one always has to recall that, unlike other analogous cases, between Cuba and the Holy See there was never a breaking off of diplomatic relations."

Cardinal Bertone noted the work of Archbishop Cesare Zacchi, (1914-1991), who served as apostolic nuncio to the nation and "did so much in this sense, and succeeded."

"Cuba is proof that dialogue, if it is sincere, always gives fruits. Likewise, it must be recognized that the Holy See has always enjoyed due liberty in selecting its own pastors," he added.

Regarding human rights, the cardinal affirmed, "All countries have difficulties. And the Church never ceases, nor will she ever cease to make her voice heard to all of them."

An angel face

Cardinal Bertone visited Cuba in October of 2005, as archbishop of Geneva. On that occasion, he was received by Castro.

"It was the president who asked to meet with me," the cardinal clarified. "It was a very long conversation. We spoke of many things, of hunger and of poverty spread through the world, and the need of a greater solidarity among people and governments. We spoke of wars and progress."

Cardinal Bertone said he was impressed by the way in which Castro spoke of Benedict XVI: "'I like this Pope,' he told me, 'He is a good person. I have understood that immediately seeing his face, the face of an angel.' Later, Fidel Castro asked me also to invite the Pope to visit Cuba. Up to now, this has not been possible," the cardinal said. "In the future, we shall see."

Benedict XVI's secretary of state said Castro encouraged the beatification of Karol Wojtyla, "and he compared the figure of John Paul II to that of Mother Teresa of Calcutta."

The cardinal's trip on that occasion was criticized in some circles, even within the Church, by those who thought the prelate was condescending with the president.

"I have heard those rumors," Cardinal Bertone said. "Obviously with Castro we spoke, in the proper way, of the relations with the local Church and of its good bishops. And I have to add that a month after my visit, the local bishops and the nuncio were received by the president and they had a long conversation. For a long time, that hadn't happened."

In the interview, the cardinal said there was not at that moment any plan for a possible meeting with Fidel or with his brother, Raúl, who is the acting head of state.

"For now the minister of foreign affairs is disposed for an official welcome and a work meeting has been set with a government delegation," Cardinal Bertone said. "The rest will be seen once I'm already there."