Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Although minor in its import, the decision of the Cuban government to declare this Good Friday a holiday is very positive according to the Vatican. "The fact that the Cuban authorities have immediately accepted the request made by the Holy Father to President Raul Castro, declaring next Good Friday a holiday, is certainly a very positive sign," said Holy See Press Office Director Fr Federico Lombardi.
Echoing the Vatican, Cuba's official daily Granma wrote, "His Holiness expressed his desire that non essential work cease on Friday of Holy Week because of religious celebrations." Cuban President Raul Castro heeded the pope's request "in consideration to His Holiness and the happy results of this transcendental visit to our country."
Although the Cuban government took the decision last Friday, the Cuban president had already told the pope about it a few minutes before the latter left Havana on Thursday. Cuban authorities will decide whether to make it a permanent holiday or not.
A similar step was taken in December 1997 by then Cuban President Fidel Castro when he made Christmas that year a one-time holiday ahead of Pope John Paul II's visit to the island nation in January 1998. Eventually, the holiday was made permanent.
In his statement, Fr Lombardi said, "The Holy See hopes that this will facilitate participation in religious celebrations and favour a happy Easter holiday. It also hopes that the Holy Father's visit may continue to produce fruits for the good of the Church and of all Cubans".
This is the real significance of the issue. During his visit to Cuba, Benedict XVI stressed "progress" on the island when he spoke about prisoners and exiles on several occasions.
For many, these words are a tacit approval for Raul Castro's slow and cautious reforms, or at least, for those he says he wants to pursue.
Against this horizon of hope, the pope aims at carving greater space for the Catholic Church, first of all, in those domains in which the Church has always operated like proclaiming the Word of God, the liturgy, not to mention education.
Even today, Cuba's ever vigilant secret police continues to monitor (and takes pictures, sometimes brazenly) those who attend Mass.
Behind Benedict XVI's "small" victory lies a commitment to greater freedom for the Church to evangelise and promote humanity's cause on the island. (FP)