The Catholic Church that Pope Benedict XVI will visit later this month in Cuba is, to put it simply, more, reports the Catholic News Service.
Since Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998, the church is more unified, more public, more likely to work with the government in accomplishing specific goals, more involved in providing assistance to the Cuban people, more comfortable in its place in society.
Its bishops, priests and laypeople, while still wary of pushing official tolerance too far, are more confident in teaching the faith in a way they believe can help shape the future of all of Cuba.
Above all, it is more hopeful.
In interviews and casual conversations with CNS last month, just about everyone - including nonbelievers - in the places Pope Benedict will visit expressed hope for what his trip might trigger. People said they saw important changes the last time a pope visited Cuba, and they have hopes for what this trip might bring.
They spoke of a Cuban people around the world unified by the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre -- La Caridad as she is affectionately called. Pope Benedict's stop in Cuba has been described by the Cuban bishops as a personal pilgrimage to share in this year's celebrations of the 400th anniversary of La Caridad.
"It is a blessing for all Cubans," said Juan Alberto Alba, whose infant godson was one of 33 children baptized Feb. 11 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, where the pope will visit March 27. "In the past it was bad to be Catholic, but the faith has grown."
"The Cuban church is a church with hope in Christ," said Msgr. Ramon Suarez Polcari, chancellor of the Havana Archdiocese. That sense of hope has become more obvious in the past few years.
FULL STORY Cuban church has become more public in rapidly changing culture (CNS)