In a sermon at the Cathedral in Havana, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski called for Cuba to move away from the "spent ideology" of Marxism without embracing the materialism of the West.
Wenski spoke Tuesday to a packed audience of more than 300 mostly Cuban-American pilgrims, and they gave him a sustained standing ovation. Many in the audience left Cuba as young children or are the sons and daughters of exiles. The Mass was part of a special service in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the island.
Delivering his sermon in Spanish, Wenski called for "soft landing" from Marxism and said the pope and the Roman Catholic Church desire a political evolution that provides dignity to all Cubans, who have been ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.
"However, as Cuba transitions, the Pope and the Church want a transition that is worthy of the Cuban's aspirations, a transition worthy of man," Wenski said. "To go from the ideological materialism of Marxism to a practical materialism such as that of many Western societies would not be worthy of man."
His call for a "soft landing" from Marxism is something he has said before, but those in attendance said it reverberated more strongly being said inside Cuba.
"I don't think he said anything today we haven't heard before," said Carlos Saldrigas, head of the Cuba Study Group, a business-led nonprofit that encourages political and economic change in Cuba as well as more exchanges.
"I think the difference is he put it all together in one overriding speech, and he did that in Havana and spoke in Spanish for all the world's press," added Saldrigas.
Wenski, who has had a close relationship with Catholic Church leaders on the island since the mid-1990s and has worked to help Cuba recover from damaging hurricanes, spoke in favor of human rights, while also warning against the excesses of capitalism.
Andy Gomez, a senior political fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, was among those in the audience.
"He's got courage," Gomez said. "He talked about human rights, which the pope did not yesterday."
The Mass was open, and a number of people wandered in toward the end of the service.
Leaflets titled "Cubans Here and There: Pilgrims for Freedom," printed by a Cuban dissident group, were passed out with a message welcoming the visitors.
"This is your country from where you are exiled as (are) hundreds (of) thousands of Cubans," it read in imperfect English. "We fight, maybe alone, but we fight for every Cuban's rights and the respect of their dignity."
"We are all one, and a single people!" it added.