The impact of the pope's trip to Cuba will be felt in the long-term, but the pilgrimage to the island from Miami has already brought healing to many Cuban-Americans who participated, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said Thursday.
More than 300 pilgrims accompanied Wenski to Cuba this week in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the island. Many were Cuban-Americans returning for the first time in many years, or the children of exiles.
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"One of the purposes of the pope's trip was to promote healing and reconciliation among all Cubans," Wenski told The Associated Press upon his return to Miami. "To the extent these Cuban-Americans were able to experience healing by being in their homeland or that of their parents, that purpose was fulfilled."
Benedict demanded greater freedom for the Catholic Church in Cuba during his Mass on Wednesday before hundreds of thousands of people.
In what seemed a thinly veiled reference to the Cuban reality, he also spoke of biblical leaders those who wrongly interpreted the search for religious truth, "leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in 'their truth' and try to impose it on others,"
Still, Some Cuban-Americans on the trip had hoped for stronger words about freedom in Cuba from the pope and more direct and overt support for the country's small dissident community.
Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, was among the pilgrims.
"If the Church wants to continue to play an important role in Cuban society, it will have to take a more aggressive stand in the future on human rights, political prisoners and dissidents," Gomez said. "They have done a good job in the last two years, but it remains to be seen whether (Cuban President) Raul Castro is willing to give them more space."
Wenski said just the presence of Benedict in Cuba helped draw the world's attention to the island and said the real impact of the visit would not be felt immediately.
"Like with John Paul, the effect of Pope Benedict's visit will be in the long run. It was not just a flash in the pan," Wenski said, referring to Pope John Paul II's 1998 trip to Cuba.
He said the pope's request that Good Friday be recognized in Cuba was a symbol of Benedict's broader desire for more recognition and freedoms for the Church and the Cuban people.