Pope's Visit Dawn of a New Era in Cuba?

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Pope Benedict XVI is set to pay a visit to Cuba this spring. Soon after the Vatican confirmed the trip, President Raul Castro promised to release 2,900 prisoners.

The move was seen as a humanitarian gesture as many of the prisoners are old and infirm. Some have already been released.

The 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II improved relations between the communist government and the Catholic Church. But Pope Benedict's coming visit is already benefiting the island's evangelical Christians. 

Last Christmas, the government took the unusual step of allowing evangelicals to hold their celebrations in public places around the country.

"I believe the authorities are understanding that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a blessing for the Cuban family and for our nation," Dr. Victor Samuel Gonzalez, president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, told CBN News.

"Therefore, they're slowly opening the doors to allow us Christians to express our faith in the Lord publicly," he said. "And we praise God for that."

Cuba's believers are calling it a victory. 

"God did more than we could have imagined," one young Cuban said.

"We're living in a historic hour because what is happening today was only a dream for us before," another Cuban resident said.

For decades, Cuban Christians have prayed for the opportunity to express their faith openly in public. The Christmas rallies took place in many cities, including one in Cienfuegos.

That rally included adult and children's choirs and different pastors addressing the crowds.

Cuban believers, who have lived with limitations and restrictions for years, are hoping these public rallies will be followed by new freedoms for the Cuban church.

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Stan Jeter

Stan Jeter

CBN News Senior Producer

CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.