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Sunday, January 25, 1998 Published at 10:36 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Tom Gibb ]Tom Gibb

Pope John Paul II has called for the release of Cuban political prisoners. He was talking at a mass on the outskirts of Havana at one of the country's principal shrines. From Havana, Tom Gibb reports:

Pope John Paul was talking on the theme of the world of pain. He said suffering is not only physical, there's also suffering of the soul such as those who are isolated, persecuted and imprisoned for offences and reasons of conscience for ideas which though dissident, are nonetheless peaceful.

There are an estimated 500 prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Opposition activists face constant harassment and arrest.

Earlier in the week, the Pope personally handed Fidel Castro a list of names which the Church would like to see released. So far there's been no public response from the Cuban government; however the country's vice-president, Carlos Lahe said the list would be given proper attention.

The Pope has made this latest appeal at one of the country's principal shrines on the outskirts of Havana. He was talking to a congregation which includes patients from a leper hospital as well as an Aids clinic.

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