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Pope Benedict: communism no longer working in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI has called for freedom of conscience and religion in Cuba. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI, flying to Cuba for a historic visit, has said that Marxism was out of place in the contemporary world and urged Cubans to find “new models”.

His remarks on Friday were at least as forthright as any made by his predecessor, John Paul II, on a groundbreaking trip to the country 14 years ago. Answering a question about his visit to Cuba, which has remained a communist bastion for more than 50 years, the pope said: “Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.”

He told reporters accompanying him on the papal plane: “In this way we can no longer respond and build a society. New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way.”

Benedict also said that his church wanted “to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society”. But his comments are likely to cause irritation in Havana.

The pope’s use of the word “trauma” reflected fears in the Vatican of a disorderly transition after the death of Cuba’s 85-year-old revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. In 2008, the ailing Castro handed over power to his brother, Raul.

The pope himself will turn 85 next month, and Friday saw him with a walking stick for the first time in public. He used the cane to cover the 100 metres or so from his helicopter to the plane that would fly him to Mexico on the first leg of his journey.

Papal aides said he had been using the stick in private for about two months because it made him feel more secure, and not for medical reasons. Last year, he began using a wheeled platform during ceremonies in St Peter’s.

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