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Fidel Castro attends convent blessing

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has made an unprecedented appearance at the blessing of a convent in Havana.

It marked the first time he has been publicly seen inside a religious institution in recent memory.

The purpose of the event, which was broadcast live on radio and television, was for the Communist leader to help bless the newly restored convent in Old Havana.

The last time Castro attended a church ceremony was during a visit by the Pope in 1998 when a Mass was held at Havana's Plaza of the Revolution. He said the convent's opening marked the fifth anniversary of that visit to Cuba.

During Saturday's blessing, he also praised John Paul II for his efforts to prevent war in the Gulf.

The revolutionary leader joined two cardinals - one from Mexico and one from the Vatican - at the former colonial palace once owned by a Spanish count and donated to house eight Brigidine sisters.

However Cuba's top Catholic churchman Cardinal Jaime Ortega who released a pastoral letter less than two weeks ago calling on the government to be more compassionate with its citizens, was absent from the proceedings.


Fidel Castro Cuban Leader Embraces World Church (AP)
Castro - in a suit - attends blessing of convent (AP)
Cuba: Fidel Castro Opens Doors to Sisters Committed to Ecumenism (Vidimus Dominum)
Castro praises pope during meeting with US university students (13/12/02)
Cuban cardinal says Pope's visit changed little (13/1/03)

10 Mar 2003