HAVANA - Good Friday was an official holiday in Cuba for the first time in a half century, but few Catholics on the island seemed to be using the day off to attend Mass.
Cuba's Communist government declared the holiday to honor a request that Pope Benedict XVI made during last week's visit. But journalists saw only a few more worshippers than usual were noted inside Havana's Catholic churches on Friday.
Authorities were also allowing Cardinal Jaime Ortega's to transmit a Good Friday message on state television.
Magno Felipe Mitjans, a lay worker who described himself as "revolutionary, Christian and Catholic," said at his parish of San Juan de Letran, "We have received more people, including in comparison with other Good Fridays."
Good Friday is the day Catholics commemorate the death of Christ, but it is not an official holiday in the United States, most of Europe or even Mexico, the most Catholic of the world's Spanish-speaking countries.
Cuba removed references to atheism from its constitution in the 1990s, and relations have since warmed with the church. Still, less than 10 percent of islanders are practicing Catholics. The country has large numbers of adherents to Santeria and evangelical Christianity.
Cubans' low-key commemoration of the day contrasted with observances in other parts of the world. Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Holy Land commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ with and processions through Jerusalem's Old City, and thousands gathered in the Philippines to witness devotees nailed to crosses in a tradition discouraged by the church. Processions were held around the rest of Latin America, including especially eye-opening ones in Guatemala where streets in some ciites were carpeted with flowers and colored sawdust.
"I'm not Catholic, but I respect them," said Gladys Ocampo, among Cuban workers who got the day off. "I'm happy to have a holiday I wasn't counting on."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.