Pope Benedict XVI followed in the footsteps of his predecessor's groundbreaking trip to Cuba today, hoping to renew the faith in Latin America's least Catholic country. Cuban President Raul Castro came to the airport in the eastern city of Santiago to welcome Benedict, just days after the pope declared the island's Marxist system outdated. Unlike in Mexico, where multitudes showed up to greet the pope at the airport, normal citizens were kept away from Cuba's tightly controlled arrival ceremony.
After a warm welcome in Mexico, Benedict's arrival is likely to be less fervent in Cuba, where only 10% of the population is Catholic. The pontiff was scheduled to rally tens of thousands at an outdoor Mass in the city's main square. Benedict's three-day stay in Cuba will inevitably spark comparisons to John Paul II's historic 1998 tour, when Fidel Castro traded his army fatigues for a suit and tie to greet the pope. Still, the government is giving residents a paid day off to attend the Mass in Santiago, and another on Wednesday in Havana. Benedict recently told reporters it is "evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality." He exhorted Cubans to "find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way." But the Vatican has said the pope has no plans to meet with political dissidents. More likely but still unconfirmed is a face-to-face with Fidel Castro, or Hugo Chavez, who is in the country undergoing chemotherapy.