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Pope in Havana: 'Cuba and the world need change'

Roman Catholic leader denounces Cuba's political "fanaticism" in a robust call for freedom.

Roman Catholic leader Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass before throngs of hundreds of thousands in Havana today, where he made an unusually explicit appeal to end political "fanaticism" in the Communist country, the Associated Press (AP) reported

The Pope urged listening government dignitaries, including President Raul Castro, to protect "the inviolable dignity of the human person," according to The Telegraph

"Cuba and the world need change," the Pope told vast crowds of worshippers today, "but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity," referrring to a half-century of US economic embargoes and failed peace efforts in remarks that AP described as unusually politicized.

Cuban dissident sources reported dozens of activists arrested ahead of the Pontiff's arrival there, The Telegraph said

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The Roman Catholic leader met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro after today's ceremony, according to AP, which comes on the last of his three-day visit. 

It is the first such trip by a Papal leader since the landmark welcome extended to the late Pope John Paul II in 1998, an event that revolutionized the Church's relations with what was then an officially atheist nation. Castro, Catholic-educated and who served as an altar boy in his early years, granted freedom of religion in the country that same year. 

Pope Benedict XVI seems to be following in the footsteps of his outspoken anti-communist predecessor, last week saying Marxism "no longer corresponds to reality," according to The Telegraph

But Cuban officials are resistant to change, with Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo telling reporters on Tuesday "there will be no political reforms," The Telegraph reported

Meanwhile, some 100 Catholic Cubans held a processional stretching from Havana's Catholic cathedral to the mass venue to celebrate 14 years of freedom of religious expression, said The Telegraph

Roman Catholics constitute about 85 percent of Cuba's population.