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Tuesday, January 20, 1998 Published at 17:58 GMT



World

Cuba cleans up for Pope's arrival
image: [ A family cycles past a huge poster advertising the Papal visit in the Marianao district of Havana ]
A family cycles past a huge poster advertising the Papal visit in the Marianao district of Havana

Cubans are busy putting the finishing touches to the biggest spring clean their country has ever seen, ahead of the Pope's arrival on Wednesday.


[ image: Rosalie, aged four, waits to greet the Pope]
Rosalie, aged four, waits to greet the Pope
Everything the Pope is likely to see is getting a fresh coat of paint or a wash and brush up, so he will see the best side of the Caribbean island.

Light-blue posters of the pontiff announce his impending arrival from the doors of homes, telephone poles, even bicycle taxis and vendors' carts.

There are hundreds of billboards encouraging Cubans to turn out and see him.


[ image: The National Library in Havana]
The National Library in Havana
In Havana, where Sunday's Mass will be held, the National Library on the Plaza de la Revolucion now sports a huge face of Jesus.

The natural enthusiasm most Cubans appear to feel for the visit is being boosted by everyone concerned.

President Fidel Castro has urged the public to turn out in force for the Pope and promised he would attend open air mass in Havana's Revolution Square.

"We should be present at the masses," he told national television viewers in a six-hour speech. "We want to see full houses."

And just in case that was not a good enough reason for most Cubans, the government has announced that workers will get time off, with pay, to greet him, and to go to the Papal masses in the provincial cities of Santa Clara, Camaguey, Santiago and Havana.


[ image: Jesus Mejia Cara is one of ten Aids patients who will be blessed by the Pope]
Jesus Mejia Cara is one of ten Aids patients who will be blessed by the Pope
The government has promised to mobilise half of all vehicles nationwide to help get people to the masses.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Cuba's Catholic Church said people should concentrate on the spiritual importance of the visit, rather than the "mega-meeting" between the Pope and President Castro.

But even leaders of Cuba's only recognised union, the Cuban Workers' Federation, have joined in, calling on its 3,000,000 members to roll out the red carpet for the Pope.

"We are going to show him the best examples of men and women who are free, unprejudiced, altruistic, united and generous, and we want to show Pope John Paul II the welcome and the visit he merits," the union's paper Trabajadores (Workers) said.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Communist Youth League urged its 500,000 members to fill Havana's squares to "hear the message of a man of great talent, culture who is concerned about the most pressing problems of modern humanity."

Whatever the reason, it seems almost certain the Pope will receive a rapturous reception wherever he goes in Cuba.
 





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