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Archbishop Wenski Returns To S. Fla. From Cuba

MIAMI (CBS4)- Archbishop Thomas Wenski returned to South Florida from Cuba Saturday afternoon.

Fresh off the plane from Cuba Wenski told CBS4's Tiffani Helberg he has witnessed history in the making. The Catholic church seems to be mending the heart of the Cuban government on its previously tough stance against the religion, he said.

"I think what we're all praying for is that there will be a future of hope for Cuba and that future means not only economic changes but some other more significant changes," he said. "Of course at the mass Raul Castro wasn't there, but there were representatives of the Cuban government that attended the mass."

On Friday, Archbishop Wenski joined Cardinal Jaime Ortega, along with other Cuban bishops for the feast of the Holy family of Nazareth, at an open air Mass on Havana's Avenida de Puerto.

It was a display of faith that would never have been allowed decades ago in Cuba.

"It was done without the government making it harder but the exact opposite," Wenski said. "In fact, at the end of the mass there was a fireworks display and that wasn't done by the church that what I believe what I heard was done by the Cuban military… as a way of for themselves to express their homage to Our Lady of Charity."

The Mass celebrated the conclusion of the pilgrimage of the statue of the Virgen Mambisa (Our Lady of Charity), and precedes the official opening of the Jubilee Year of the 400th anniversary of the presence of the image of Our Lady of Charity in Cuba.

The opening will be marked by special ceremonies at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity in Cobre on Sunday, Jan. 8.

The ceremonies in Cuba come ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's planned visit in the last week of March 2012.

The Pope's visit will be especially meaningful to the Catholic community in Cuba because they are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, which is Cuba's patron saint.

This will be Cuba's second papal visit. Pope John Paul II visited the island nation in 1998 and was well received by the thousands who attended a mass he celebrated.

"It will be a watershed moment for the Cuban church as was the visit of John Paul II in 1998," said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski. "The pope goes on a mission of hope and as he has said many times A world without God is a world without hope, without a future' and I think he comes to announce a future of hope for the island of Cuba."

Cuba's church has played an increasingly important role in recent years. It helped negotiate the release of political prisoners in 2009 and 2010.

During his trip, the 84-year old pontiff is expected to meet with members of President Raul Castro's government and possibly discuss economic reforms.

"I think there's a sense of great expectation, great excitement and what we saw yesterday in Havana is a demonstration of what has been called a new springtime of faith," Wenski said.

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