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Cuba Special Report: Cardinal O'Malley's visit to Cuba builds on long connection to country


Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami wait for the start of Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Revolution Square in Havana March 28. CNS photo/Paul Haring

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The only American cardinal able to make the journey to Cuba to follow in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Cuba March 23-26, Cardinal O'Malley witnessed firsthand the changes in the Catholic Church in that country.

Cardinal O'Malley's history with the Cuban people dates back to his days studying at Capuchin College, in Washington, D.C. It was there he got involved with the Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria (ACU), a Catholic student organization, founded in 1926 in Havana by Father Rey de Castro. The members of the ACU quickly became among his closest friends, and then-Father O'Malley became the Washington-area chaplain of the ACU.

In 1973, when he became director of the Centro Catolico, a Hispanic Catholic center that reached out to impoverished Latinos in the Washington area, he turned to his friends at the ACU for help.

"They were doctors and dentists, and all other types of professionals, and they came in and helped me in any way they could," he recalled.

In the early 1980s, the cardinal travelled to Cuba for the first time in order to help bring more Capuchins to the island.

"There were only two friars left in the country," he explained, "because during the [Communist] Revolution, [Fidel Castro's men] had arrested all the friars except for these two men who hadn't been in the house when the soldiers came."

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