Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal will read a Christmas message on state television for the second straight year, another small sign the once officially atheist communist government is warming to religion.
During the Wednesday broadcast, Cardinal Jaime Ortega will give thanks that more island families can welcome relatives living in the United States this holiday after the administration of President Barack Obama loosened restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to the island.
The full message airing on government-controlled television was confirmed by Orlando Marquez, spokesman for Havana's Conference of Bishops, who said authorities also will show a Christmas concert held last week at the National Cathedral.
Elisa Ramos, a 67-year-old retiree, said her son Fernando will spend Christmas in Cuba for the first time in 12 years.
"It's the best thing that has happened to us," she said Tuesday.
The broadcast of Ortega's message adds to a small but growing list of signs the government's relationship with the church is improving.
In November 2008, President Raul Castro unexpectedly joined thousands of faithful for the beatification of Friar Jose Olallo Valdes in the city of Camaguey.
Raul, who succeeded his brother as president in February 2008, also had his first diplomatic meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict XVI's secretary of state, who was in Cuba marking the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit.
The government never outlawed religion, but expelled priests and closed religious schools after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Tensions eased in the early 1990s when the government removed references to atheism from its constitution and let believers of all faiths join the Communist Party. They improved more when Pope John Paul II visited in 1998.