HAVANA (CWN) - Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana appeared on Cuban TV Tuesday night in a half-hour show that featured a brief Bible lesson and a talk on Christian liberty, as part of preparations for Pope John Paul's landmark visit to the Communist country next week.

      Cardinal Ortega, the first Catholic prelate to appear on Cuban TV since shortly after the 1959 revolution, touched on two of the most sensitive issues surrounding the January 21-25 visit -- human rights and the Holy Father's prominent role in bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe -- but in a way designed to allay the government's fears. He portrayed the Holy Father's role in Poland not as that of an anti-Communist, but as that of a patriot offended by his country's subjection to the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II -- which Poles "felt as something that damaged their nationality, their patriotism."

      He also noted that Pope John Paul has historically opposed the excesses of capitalism and materialism which have exacerbated the problem of poverty in the former Warsaw Pact countries. "The Pope believes ... in liberty understood in a Christian way," Cardinal Ortega said. That does not mean liberty "to not be guided or oriented by anybody," he added, but rather liberty to seek the truth.

      Meanwhile, Cuba's ambassador to the Vatican told reporters in Rome on Tuesday that the Holy Father is free to speak on any subject during his visit. "The Pope can say anything he wants in Cuba," Ambassador Hermes Herrera said. "Cuba did not say to the Pope 'you can come but you can't talk about this or that.'"

      In a related story, Cuba's ambassador to the Holy See, Hermes Herrera, has sharply denied reports that a hidden microphone has been discovered in the rooms where Pope John Paul II will stay during his visit to the island nation next week.

      At a press conference in Rome yesterday, the Cuban ambassador pointed out that the Holy Father will be staying at the residence of the apostolic nuncio in Havana throughout the term of his visit. He also said that his government had not received any protest from the Holy See, or any indication that Vatican officials were concerned about surveillance. And he said that Cuban-Americans living in Miami were responsible for concocting the story.

      The Spanish daily El Pais had reported earlier this week that a microphone had been found in a religious residence where the Pope would be staying during one stop on his pastoral visit. The Vatican has refused to comment on the story.

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January 15, 1998 volume 9, no. 11          DAILY CATHOLIC