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You're reading: Cubans celebrate Christmas ahead of pope’s visit
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The visit, expected in March, coincides with the 400th anniversary of Cuba’s patron saint and follows years of lobbying by Roman Catholic officials on the island.

The timing also appears to reward the larger role the church has assumed in Cuba in recent years. Havana Archbishop Jaime Ortega personally negotiated the release of political prisoners in 2010 and 2011, and church magazines have become a forum for articles offering advice to Cuban leaders on a process of free-market reforms begun by President Raul Castro.

Castro even cited Benedict’s visit in announcing on Friday that Cuba would free 2,900 inmates as a humanitarian gesture, including some jailed for political crimes.

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