HAVANA (CWN) - The explosion reported outside a Cuban church over the weekend was caused by a large firecracker set off by a Mexican tourist celebrating Christmas, the government said on Monday.

      The Interior Ministry said Alejandro Rivera Jimenez, 48, set off a small rocket outside the La Merced church at 3:15 am on Saturday and that it accidentally hit the side of the church. The small explosive caused no damage to the 17th century church.

      The incident had initially alarmed some church officials who thought the blast might have been aimed as a protest against Pope John Paul's visit to the island next month. The Cuban Communist government promised heavy security for the papal visit.

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December 31, 1997 volume 8, no. 64         DAILY CATHOLIC