By Alejandro Bermudez
In response to Pope Benedict XVI’s specific request to Cuban President Raúl Castro, the Cuban government has announced that this coming Good Friday will be a one-time national holiday.
The government’s short statement, published March 31 in the official newspaper “Granma,” said that the Pope requested the holiday declaration “in honor of the religious celebrations that take place on the occasion of the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Minutes before the Pope’s departure from Cuba on March 28, President Raúl Castro told the Pope of his desire to declare Friday, April 6 a holiday “as an exception, and in consideration to His Holiness and the happy results of this transcendental visit to our country.”
However, authorities will decide in the future whether the holiday will become permanent.
Leaders of the Cuban Revolution suppressed all religious holidays following the island country’s 1959 communist takeover.
The Christmas holiday was reinstated in 1998 after Pope John Paul II’s specific request to then-President Fidel Castro during the pontiff’s historic visit to Cuba.
Pope Benedict requested the Good Friday holiday in his Tuesday meeting with Fidel Castro’s brother and successor, Raúl Castro.
The Cuban government’s March 31 statement said that the decision to make Good Friday a permanent holiday in Cuba “has been left up to the highest governing organs of the nation.”
Although President Castro and the Council of Ministers are in practice the highest authorities, in theory the ultimate decision depends on the Communist Party.
In Rome, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi expressed enthusiasm.
Fr. Lombardi said the fact that the Cuban authorities “quickly welcomed” Pope Benedict’s request to declare Good Friday a holiday is “certainly a very positive sign.”
“The Holy See hopes that this will encourage participation in the religious celebrations and joyous Easter festivities, and that the visit of the Holy Father will continue to bring the desired fruits for the good of the Church and all Cubans.”
An official reaction from the Cuban Bishops’ Conference is expected on Monday.
A source in the Catholic Church in Cuba, who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, expressed the Church’s surprise at the quick positive response from the government.
The source, who is not with the bishops’ conference, said that the onetime declaration fits a pattern of government behavior towards the Catholic Church. The Cuban government, by leaving open the decision to make the holiday permanent, keeps using the “carrot and stick” policy usually applied to the Catholic bishops with the aim of discouraging criticism.