HAVANA, CUBA (Greek News & Comnined Agencies)
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew concluded yesterday his five day
official visit to Cuba, consecrating the new St. Nicholas cathedral,
in capital Havana. President Fidel Castro, gave the key of the
cathedral to the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox
Christians. Patriarch Bartholomew I in turn honored Castro with the
Cross of St. Andrew the Apostle, which is given to supporters of the
Orthodox faith.

Balancing a heavy golden crown encrusted with jewels on his head, the
white-bearded patriarch circled the new cathedral several times
during the ceremony conducted in a swirl of Greek chants and pungent
incense.


Castro, dressed in a gray suit, looked tired after reportedly staying
up all night with a visiting foreign delegation. He left quietly
after the exchange of gifts outside the small sanctuary of cream-
colored stone with brick trim, about halfway through more than four
hours of ancient ritual.

Shortly before the gift exchange, the patriarch spoke out against the
U.S. trade embargo of more than four decades against Cuba.  "The blockade of peoples and countries is a historic error," the
patriarch said in Greek, which was then translated into Spanish.
Problems between people and nations, he said "are resolved through
dialogue and communication."

Also at the ceremony were hundreds of Greek-Americans, as well as
Orthodox church members from Greece and other nations.

American officials in Havana were disappointed when the patriarch
failed to show at a Saturday night reception at the home of U.S.
Interests Section Chief James Cason, whose guests also included a
number of vocal Castro opponents. Archbishop Demetrios of America
said the patriarch had other commitments.

Cuba's best-known activist, Oswaldo Paya, spoke with Demetrios at the
American reception and gave him a statement to be delivered to the
patriarch, asking for his blessing.
"We want peace, we want reconciliation, we want and we can undertake
our own Cuban project of justice and democracy -- but with the
liberty Our Lord God has given us," wrote Paya, a Catholic and top
organizer of the Varela Project, a signature gathering drive that
seeks deep changes in Cuba's socialist system.

Speaking at a luncheon, on Saturday, Patriarch Bartholomew call for
all nations especially in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean
to respect human rights.

US officials that met on Wednesday in Washington, with Greek American
leaders, have expressed their disappointment on the Patriarch's
decision to honor Castro.

THE VISIT

The Cuban people and its leadership, headed by Fidel Castro himself,
welcomed the Head of Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on
Wednesday night at "Jose Marti" airport with sincere emotions of
love, friendship and gratitude. In statements to NET Greek state
television, the Patriarch stressed that the seclusion of a people
from the international community and the violation of human rights
and religious liberties are equally condemnable acts.

The Ecumenical Patriarch expressed satisfaction for the measures
adopted by the government and the people of Cuba for the protection
of the environment and stressed that the consequences, stemming from
the incorrect way the serious environment protection problem is being
dealt with, are felt by the humanity as a whole and not just by those
responsible for the pollution.

Mr. Vartholomeos stated that the interest of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate in the protection of the environment is rooted in the
belief that the environment is a work of God.

The Ecumenical Patriarch also reminded that for a number of years the
Ecumenical Patriarchate has undertaken actions for the protection of
the environment, and referred to the speeches he delivered, and the
ecological and environmental seminars, as well as those held in
cooperation with the EU in the Aegean, the Black Sea, the Danube, the
Adriatic and the Baltic Sea.

The Patriarch had three long meetings with Fidel Castro, while he
visited hospitals and he spoke at a central hall in Havana on the
environment.

Speaking at the dinner held in his honor by the Greek Ambassador to
Cuba, Georgios Costoulas, Bartholomew stressed that "the Cuban people
thirsts for Christ, and life with Christ, life in Grace", and he
added that the sorely tried by its history people hears Christ's
voice say: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will
give you rest".

And this voice is more clearly heard through the worship, the dogma
and the tradition of the Orthodox Church, a fact that creates greater
obligations for us, which we must confront with a spirit of love and
missionary zeal.

During the dinner, the Archbishop of America Dimitrios was also
honored, while special mention was made of the work of the
Metropolite of Panama and Central America.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro asked for the assistance of Ecumenical
Patriarch Vartholomeos for books on the monastic community of Mount
Athos and Christianity to be sent to Cuba during a dinner given in
Havana by Greek-American businessman John Catsimatides. Speaking to
the Greek reporters covering the visit, Fidel Castro said that he
would like to visit Greece especially during the Athens Olympic Games
but he has no visa. The main issue of discussion during the dinner
was education at a time characterized internationally by a crisis in
values.

The new cathedral will be used by the island's estimated 2,000
Orthodox Christians. Church members include diplomats and foreign
businesspeople from countries such as Greece and Turkey, and people
who immigrated here during the Soviet era. The church was the
brainchild of Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Greek Orthodox
Metropolitan for Central America and the Caribbean, and Havana City
Historian Eusebio Leal. Metrpolitan has credited former King of
Greece Contanine for the role. He said that Constantine had convinced
Fidel Castro, a couple of years ago to built a new orthodox church.


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