Pope sympathetic to inmates,' all Cubans' desires

Associated Press
Pope Benedict XVI walks with Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, as he arrives to Antonio Maceo airport in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Monday March 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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Pope Benedict XVI walks with Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, as he arrives to Antonio Maceo airport …

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI is expressing sympathy with the "just aspirations and legitimate desires" of all Cubans, including prisoners.

Benedict says he carries the sufferings and joys of islanders in his heart, and specifically mentions inmates among others.

But he is not singling out "political prisoners" as his predecessor John Paul II did during his 1998 visit to Cuba.

Benedict is also urging more progress in relations between the church and a government that was officially atheist until the early 1990s. And he's criticizing the excesses of capitalism, a more palatable message for Cuban authorities than his recent comment that Marxist ideology is outdated.

He spoke Monday upon arrival in the eastern city of Santiago.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI says he has "heartfelt affection" for all Cubans, both on the island and in exile.

The pontiff says in his arrival speech that Cubans are ever present in his heart and prayers, "wherever they may be." He spoke in the eastern city of Santiago, where he is kicking off a three-day tour.

Cuban President Raul Castro greeted him at the airport, just days after Benedict declared the island's Marxist system outdated.

Benedict is on a mission to renew the faith in Latin America's least Catholic country. Less than 10 percent of the population is observant.

The pope is to celebrate a huge outdoor Mass later Monday in Santiago's main square.

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