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Pope denounces US embargo on Cuba

Pope John Paul II denounced the US economic embargo against Cuba on Friday in a speech to Cuban bishops visiting the Vatican.

"Restrictive economic measures imposed from outside... (are) unjust and ethically unacceptable," said the pope, who has made similar statements in the past.

The Holy Father praised the bishops for their efforts to revive the Catholic faith on their island nation, saying the Cuban people have a spiritual thirst unsatisfied by the secular world's "old ideologies".

He recalled his visit to Cuba in 1998, which led Cuban leader Fidel Castro to grant more freedoms to the Roman Catholic Church and to believers.

Much has been accomplished since then, the pope said, but much needs to be done. He urged his listeners to redouble their efforts to recruit new priests and nuns.

Church-state relations began improving markedly after John Paul's visit. Christmas was reinstated as a permanent holiday and outdoor religious processions, common before Cuba's 1959 revolution, were again allowed.