Mar. 23 - Pope Benedict says the church is ready to help the island nation move forward 'without trauma.' Deborah Gembara reports.
Ahead of his visit to Cuba, Pope Benedict has managed to create some controversy. Speaking on board a plane from Italy, the head of the Roman Catholic Church had this to say about Cuba's communist government. SOUNDBITE: Pope Benedict saying (Italian): "Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality. This way we can no longer respond and build a society. New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way. In this process, which calls for patience but also much decisiveness, we want to help, in a spirit of dialogue, to avoid traumas and to help move towards a society that is fraternal and just, which is what we desire for the whole world. We want to collaborate in this direction. It is obvious that the church is always on the side of freedom, on the side of freedom of conscience, of freedom of religion, and we contribute in this sense." In Havana, the government response was muted. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. SOUNDBITE: Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez saying (Spanish): "Those who intend to place obstacles in front of the Apostolic visit with political manipulation will fail. Because His Holiness will find in Cuba a patriotic population who is proud of their culture, their convictions, their independence, their social project, their democracy and of their sentiments of solidarity and justice. A people who will listen to His Holiness with profound respect." The pontiff's criticism of communism as well as his call for freedom of religion on the island has been met with enthusiasm by some of Cuba's dissident groups. Laura Maria Labrada Pollan is with the group Ladies in White. SOUNDBITE: Laura Maria Labrada Pollan of the dissident group Ladies in White saying (Spanish): "I think it's good. We have been fighting for this, we are fighting for the respect of human rights here in Cuba so that Cubans are free because the Cuban people need change, they need social changes, economic changes, they need freedom of expression and what would be better if we found those changes." The Pope will spend the first leg of his trip in Mexico and is due to arrive in Cuba on Monday. Deborah Gembara, Reuters.