HAVANA - Pope Benedict XVI prayed for freedom and renewal “for the greater good of all Cubans’’ before the nation’s patron saint Tuesday, but the island’s communist leaders quickly rejected the Roman Catholic leader’s appeal for political change after five decades of one-party rule.
The exchange came hours ahead of a meeting with President Raul Castro behind closed doors on the pontiff’s second day on the island. A video feed showed the two together at the presidential palace.
There was no visit to see Fidel Castro, nor were there plans to meet with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who is in Havana receiving radiation treatment for cancer.
Days after dismissing the Marxist ideology on which the Cuban system is based, Benedict continued to gently press themes highly sensitive to the Cuban government in his prayer and short speech at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre near the eastern city of Santiago.
It wasn’t long before a top official back in Havana responded.
“In Cuba, there will not be political reform,’’ said Marino Murillo, Cuba’s economic czar and a vice president.
Murillo’s comments left no room for doubt, and they were quickly picked up by progovernment blogs.