July 6, 2001

Pope tells bishops U.S. economic embargo is 'unjust'

                 VATICAN CITY, Vatican (AP) -- Pope John Paul II denounced the
                 U.S. economic embargo against Cuba on Friday in a speech to
                 Cuban bishops visiting the Vatican.

                 "Restrictive economic measures imposed from outside ... (are) unjust
                  and ethically unacceptable," said the pope, who has made similar statements
                  in the past.

                  The pontiff praised the bishops for their efforts to revive the Roman
                  Catholic faith in their island nation, saying the Cuban people have a
                  spiritual thirst unsatisfied by the secular world's "old ideologies."

                  He recalled his 1998 visit to Cuba, which led Cuban leader Fidel Castro
                  to grant more freedoms to the Roman Catholic Church and to believers.

                 Much has been accomplished since then, the pope said, but there remains
                 room for improvement. He urged his listeners to redouble their efforts to
                 recruit new priests and nuns.

                 Church-state relations began improving markedly after John Paul's visit.
                 Christmas was reinstated as a permanent holiday and outdoor religious
                 processions, common before Cuba's 1959 revolution, were again allowed.

                 Cuba was officially atheist from the early 1960s until 1992, and religious
                 believers were banned from the Communist Party, the military and several
                 professions. Believers were granted permission to join the party after the 1991
                 collapse of Cuba's Soviet bloc allies.

                   Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.