Cuba to Mark Good Friday as Holiday Thanks to Benedict XVI's Visit

And Cubans Able to Follow Some of Pope Francis' 1st Days

Havana, Cuba, (Zenit.org) Araceli Cantero Guibert | 2391 hits

The Cuban government announced that Good Friday will be a public holiday in Cuba. The news was published Monday in the Granma newspaper, indicating that the measure was established in Resolution 24 on March 29, 2009.

The following day, the same newspaper, which is the official publication of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, published a note stating that "by an error the newspaper's editorial board omitted yesterday to state that the labor recess of the 29th is for Friday of Holy Week, the omission sparking numerous criticisms from readers."

In the clarification, Granma said: "obviated likewise was the explanation that the government's decision to recess non-indispensable work activities that day is due to the gesture of good will formulated since Pope Benedict XVI's visit to our country."

In 1998, after John Paul II's visit, Christmas was declared a public holiday. The date was made official the following year.

In the case of the date of Good Friday, the news was made known a year after Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba, which coincided with the official beginning of Pope Francis' pontificate.

During Pope Benedict XVI's visit there was speculation about the possibility of a new public holiday. Some thought it would be the feast of the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba. Others thought it would be Good Friday, as an ecumenical gesture that unites all Christians.

This new gesture reflects the more relaxed relations between the Church and the Cuban state, after half a century of tensions. It was in the 60s of the 20th century, a period marked by ideology and atheism, when the tradition of Christmas and Good Friday disappeared from Cuban society. In 1961 the Church was despoiled of its classrooms and access to the media.

During those years some buildings of the Church, which were used for temporary service to the people in times of cyclones, for popular festivities and for storage, were not returned. More recently, the Church has been given permission to build or restore certain churches. It has been able to do so thanks to financial aid from international organizations and individuals' donations. In some provinces, the authorities have returned Church buildings.

In 1993 the Cuban Constitution was no longer described as atheist. Cuba was identified as a secular state. This measure encouraged many people to go to church and express their faith. Little by little the people and the government itself have understood the identity and mission of the Church and its pastoral work: in social action, in parish centers of formation and in the pastoral care of prison inmates. On occasions, there have been celebrations with prisoners. Some priests and nuns are already talking about the need in hospital for places offering spiritual advice to patients and their families.

In Cuba, all the media belongs to the state. There are no religious programs as a public service. On three occasions during the year -- at the beginning of Holy Week, on the Day of the Virgin of Charity, and at Christmas -- the bishops who so wish may address the people with half-hour programs. However, the Church seeks greater systematization of its presence in the media.

Recently the signal of the Venezuelan broadcasting station Telesur entered Cuba, introducing new programs and international news. Through Telesur, Cubans were able to follow live the events related to Pope Francis' election, his first blessing and his address from the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, as well as a re-transmission of segments of the Mass inaugurating his papacy.

The Cuban educational channel broadcasted a recording of the Mass marking the beginning of Pope Francis' pontificate.