HAVANA – Cuba has honored an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI and declared this week’s Good Friday a holiday for the first time since the early days following the island’s 1959 revolution, though a decision on whether the move will be permanent will have to wait.
The communist government said in a communique Saturday that the decision was made in light of the success of Benedict’s “transcendental visit” to the country, which wrapped up Wednesday. It said the Council of Ministers, Cuba’s supreme governing body, will decide later whether to make the holiday permanent.
Benedict’s appeal was reminiscent of his predecessor John Paul II’s 1998 request that Christmas be restored as a holiday. Religious holidays were abolished in the 1960s after brothers Fidel and Raul Castro came to power, ushering in a Marxist government.
Good Friday is the day many Christian denominations commemorate the death of Christ, but it is not a holiday in the United States, most of Europe or even Mexico, the most Catholic of the world’s Spanish-speaking countries.
Cuba removed references to atheism from its constitution in the 1990s, and relations have warmed with the church. Still, less than 10 percent of islanders are practicing Catholics.