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Raúl Castro, Miami Archbishop on Hand as Church Opens First Seminary in Cuba in 50 Years

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For the first time since the revolution, the Catholic Church has opened a new building in Cuba. And none other than President Raúl Castro was on hand to help cut the ribbon, according to Spanish news agency EFE.

During the inauguration, Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega thanked both Raúl and Fidel Castro for the "state support" lent to the project -- the first of its kind in 50 years. Among those in attendance was Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski, making his first trip to the island since taking over the Church in South Florida in April.

"The symbolism of Wenski leading a delegation of bishops for the opening of the new seminary in Cuba is tremendous," says Andy Gómez from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

"For the first time the Cuban gov has allowed the Catholic Church to open up a seminary outside of Havana," Gómez says. "It's incredible."

Like the release of 52 political prisoners in the last four months, the new seminary is part of a broader improvement in relations between the Church and the Cuban government, he says.

"This has all been part of the negotiations between Cuba and the Church," Gómez says. "The Church wants to play a more significant role in addressing social issues in Latin America, and it starts with Cuba."

Could Pope Benedict XVI be next to visit Cuba? "There are rumors about that," says Gómez.

But the visit could also backfire for Archbishop Wenski, whose Miami flock includes many Cubans who would prefer the Church had nothing to do with Cuba's communist government.

Wenski told New Times recently that his trips to Cuba have helped "opened up space" for the Church on the island. He is due back in Miami on Saturday.

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