Fidel has taste and style!
Orthodox Christian Leader and Castro Meet
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 22, 2004
Filed at 4:36 a.m. ET
HAVANA (AP) -- Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I,
spiritual leader of the world's 300 million
Orthodox Christians, met with Cuban President
Fidel Castro during his mission to consecrate a
new cathedral built by the island's communist
Bartholomew, dressed in his traditional black
robes and veiled cap and carrying his patriarchal
staff, was greeted with Greek hymns and bouquets
of roses Wednesday night as he became the first
Christian Orthodox patriarch to visit Latin America.
Castro, wearing an olive green uniform, greeted
the bearded patriarch at the bottom of the plane's
steps after the long flight from Istanbul, Turkey.
The two men walked down a red carpet, greeting
diplomats, Cuban officials, local Orthodox
Christian leaders and representatives of Cuba's
Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
The patriarch and the president also greeted a
small group of children dressed in white, who gave
them bouquets of roses. A choir sang sacred songs
in liturgical Greek.
After posing briefly for news photographers and
television cameramen, the pair entered a black
Mercedes Benz sedan for the trip to the Palace of
the Revolution, where Castro staged a formal
On Sunday, the patriarch will consecrate the new
St. Nicholas cathedral, which Castro's government
built as a gift to Orthodox Christians.
Greek Orthodox officials said it was the first new
church of any faith to be built on the Caribbean
island during Castro's 45-year rule.
``It is with much respect that we receive the
patriarch, whose visit constitutes a gesture of
friendship toward Cuba,'' Foreign Minister Felipe
Perez Roque said.
Perez Roque said the visit would show the world
``that in Cuba there is freedom to express
religion, a faith, and there is a commitment by
the government to support that right.''
Cuban officials take issue with a U.S. State
Department report issued last month that said
surveillance, infiltration and harassment of
religious groups is common on the island.
While Cuba became officially atheist in the years
after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to
power, the government removed references to
atheism in the constitution more than a decade ago
and allowed religious believers to join the
Before that, religious believers struggled under a
system that discouraged -- but never outright
prohibited -- religious worship. Believers were
barred from important jobs and viewed with
suspicion by officials who oversaw most aspects of
Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and
the government warmed in early 1998 with the visit
by Pope John Paul II. But Cuba's Catholic leaders
continue pushing for the right to open parochial
schools for children and access to
Bartholomew is the patriarch of Greek Orthodox
Christians and considered ``first among equals''
of 14 patriarchs representing Orthodox Christian
congregations in eastern Europe and the Middle
East, including Russia, Bulgaria, Romania,
Ukraine, Syria and Iraq.
The Orthodox faith is little known in Cuba, as
well as the rest of Latin America, where Roman
Catholicism has long been the dominant church.
Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism split
nearly a millennium ago over questions of theology
and papal authority.
Featuring traditional Orthodox mosaics and icons
of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and numerous
saints, the new sanctuary of cream-colored stone
with red brick trim was built alongside the Roman
Catholic San Francisco Basilica in Old Havana.
It will be used by the island's estimated 2,000
Orthodox Christians, who include diplomats and
foreign business people from countries such as
Greece and Turkey, and people who immigrated here
before the fall of communism in former Soviet
states and Eastern European countries including
Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
Neither the Cuban government nor church officials
have said how much it cost.
An estimated 500 Greek-Americans are expected in
Cuba for the consecration, along with scores more
Orthodox faithful from around the region, said
Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Greek Orthodox
archbishop for Central America, the Caribbean,
Mexico, Central America, Panama, Colombia and
The patriarch's visit coincides with a trip here
by the National Council of Churches U.S.A., which
represents many mainline American Christian groups.
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