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Pope arrives in Cuba for three-day visit

President Raul Castro and members of the clergy were waiting at Santiago de Cuba's airport to greet the Pope.

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Members of the Cuban opposition group Ladies in White. Cuba released some political prisoners last year in a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Cuba for a three-day visit focused on pushing for more religious freedom and improving church-state relations.

According to Reuters, the Pope landed at Santiago de Cuba's seaside airport in the country's east and was greeted by President Raul Castro.

Members of the Cuban clergy, including Cardinal Jaime Ortega, were also present to witness only the second papal visit in the island's history, says CNN.

Castro welcomed the Pope by saying that Cuba has endeavored for peace and justice, but noted that even 14 years after the Pope's predecessor's visit, the American economic embargo against Cuba persists.

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In his opening speech witnessed by the Associated Press correspondent, the pontiff expressed his "heartfelt affection" for all Cubans, both on the island and in exile.

He made particular mention of prisoners, but did not single out political prisoners as his predecessor, John Paul II, did during his 1998 visit to Cuba.

Castro responded by saying that his country favors complete religious freedom.

The New York Times notes that Castro shook the Pope's had in greeting, but did not kiss his ring.

The Pope will begin his visit by touring the southern city of Santiago de Cuba, near the sanctuary that houses an icon of Cuba's patron saint, the BBC says.

On Tuesday he will hold official talks with Castro, before wrapping up his two-country visit, which started in Mexico last week, on Wednesday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/cuba/120326/pope-arrives-cuba-three-day-visit