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Good-Friday-mass-in-Havan.jpgBells rang from Roman Catholic churches throughout Havana as Cubans celebrated a holiday on Good Friday for the first time in more than half a century.

The day off, granted at the request of Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to the communist island, translated into quieter streets than usual, but only sparse attendance at a mass in the city's main cathedral presided over by Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

About 100 people, a number of them tourists, showed up for the event, but many Cubans may have watched it on national television in a broadcast as rare for the church and country as the holiday itself.

The Cuban government ended religious holidays after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

He reinstated Christmas as a holiday in 1998 at the request of the visiting Pope John Paul II, and his successor and younger brother, President Raúl Castro, declared Friday a free day following Benedict's trip to Cuba last week.

It was still to be decided if Good Friday would become a permanent holiday, the government said.

Ortega, who is archbishop of Havana and the leader of Cuba's Catholic church, gave a homily that was heavy on the importance of religion and devoid of obvious politics.

Relations between the church and the Cuban government have warmed under Raúl Castro, who since succeeding his brother in 2008 has undertaken economic reforms that could bring increased unemployment and attendant social problems as he tries to remake the island's struggling Soviet-style system.

Benedict, who was in Cuba from 26 to 28 March, asked that the church be able to expand its education and social programmes, which he said could help Cuba through its time of change.

The church also wants more access to mass media, which is controlled by the state. For years, the church was shut out from television, radio and newspapers.

People attending Ortega's mass said a renewal of religion was occurring in the country, which was officially atheist for 15 years starting in 1976. The church says about 60% of Cubans are baptized Catholics, but only 5% regularly go to mass.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/07/cuba-good-friday-1959-revolution

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