HAVANA (CWN) - A small bomb exploded outside a Catholic church in Havana on Saturday, but caused no injuries or damage although the incident elevated fears for Pope John Paul's safety during his visit next month.

      The small blast occurred early Saturday morning while the La Merced church's five priests slept in the nearby rectory. The church built in 1792 and located in Old Havana is a popular tourist stop. A spokesman said no one had claimed responsibility for the explosion. Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana said he was troubled by the incident, but added that he wasn't worried about the Holy Father's safety during the January 21-25 trip.

      The Communist Cuban government had already increased promised levels of security for the papal visit following a series of hotel bombings earlier this year that were blamed on Cuban-American exile groups. One of the priests at La Merced church, Father Angel Renes, gave a live interview Christmas Eve with US government-controlled Radio Marti, but church officials said they did not think it was connected to the explosion.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT:To subscribe to Catholic World News Service, available daily by e-mail, click here .

December 30, 1997 volume 8, no. 63         DAILY CATHOLIC