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Priest Says Too Soon To Tell Pope's Impact On Cuba

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – One of Pope Francis' main objectives when he visited Cuba was to create more space for the Catholic Church on the communist island country. Did he do it? One local priest says it is too soon to tell.

Father Eduardo Garcia Tamayo's church in Cuba got a surprise on Sunday.

"It was something that we just received as a gift. It was not a programmed activity," he told CBS4's Rick Folbaum.

Just hours after celebrating mass at the Revolution Square in Havana, Pope Francis made an unexpected visit to his Jesuit parish.

"It was very, very exciting for all of us here, all the people who were here," said Father Tamayo.

Cuba's Catholics have grown accustomed to papal visits – its third in 17 years. With each one the the church has looked to grow, expand its reach on the island – which until recently had been strictly atheist.

In a country of 11 million people, no new churches have been built in 60 years and there are only 357 priests in the country, according to the Vatican.

Father Tamayo says the church does play an important role, providing social services for people that the Castro regime can't afford.

While Pope Francis' visit was greatly appreciated, Tamayo said the message was brief.

"He didn't deliver any worthy message. He just let us be sure that he is near us. He wanted to be with us and wanted to greet us and he wanted to know us, to take a look at the church," said Tamayo. "Let us know that he prays for us and wants us to pray for him."

On whether the pope should have been more vocal denouncing the Castros, Tamayo said, "He accomplishes more in the private talks than in public appearances. We are all witnesses only of the public appearances. What has he talked about in the private talks? We don't know. We've got to wait and see the results."

After three straight papal visits, one thing is clear – it's the Castros, not this pope or any other, that determines how much space the Catholic Church gets.

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