VATICAN (CWN) -- At his regular Wednesday audience today, Pope John Paul II assessed his recent trip to Cuba, and told the 8,000 pilgrims who were on hand at the Vatican that it was a visit marked by "reconciliation-- spiritual, cultural, and social."

      Like many observers, the Holy Father compared his visit to Cuba with his 1979 trip to Poland. To a group of Polish visitors in St. Peter's Square, he said, "I conveyed to the people of that beautiful island my wish that the fruits of this pilgrimage will be like those of my earlier pilgrimage in Poland." The Pope's 1979 trip to Poland is widely viewed as having opened the final drive toward the collapse of Communism in that country.

      "I thank the Lord for the unforgettable pastoral visit which he has allowed me to make to Cuba," the Pope said, speaking in French during one portion of his weekly audience. I am full of gratitude toward the Church in Cuba and toward all of the Cuban people and their leaders."

      The Pope placed special emphasis on the final Mass he celebrated in Cuba, in the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana. There, he said, "the successor of Peter took a historic step, proclaiming the Gospel message of freedom and truth, which the Church expresses particularly in her social doctrine." He said that the Cuban people are "profoundly marked by Christianity," and that he drew great hope from the young people and their enthusiasm for the Gospel.

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January 29, 1998 volume 9, no. 21          DAILY CATHOLIC