HAVANA, March 28 (UPI) -- Pope Benedict XVI said in Cuba Wednesday people should emulate the Rev. Felix Varela, a Cuban nominated for sainthood, as they "forge a worthy and free nation."
During his homily at a mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana attended by hundreds of thousands of Cubans, the spiritual leader of the world's Roman Catholics cited Varela for his work as an "educator and teacher, an illustrious son of this city of Havana, who has taken his place in Cuban history as the first one who taught his people how to think," The Miami Herald reported.
"Father Varela offers us a path to a true social transformation: to form virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation, for this transformation depends on man's spiritual life, in as much as 'there is no authentic fatherland without virtue,'" Benedict said.
Varela, born in Havana in 1788, taught philosophy and sciences before pushing for Cuba's independence from Spain. After being sentenced to death by Spanish courts, he moved to the United States where he died in 1853.
Fidel Castro, former president of the communist-governed island who stepped down in 2006 due to illness, was expected to meet with the pope Wednesday, CNN reported.
Castro, on the official Cubadebate Web site, called Benedict "a man whose contact with children and humble members of society has, invariably, raised feelings of affection."
Benedict, 84, met Tuesday night with Castro's brother, President Raul Castro.
While the pope last week said traditional Marxism no longer works and Cubans should seek "new models," he has made no direct reference to Cuba's political system since his arrival in the country, instead offering prayers "for those denied freedom," CNN said.