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POPE ACCEPTS AN INVITATION TO VISIT CUBA
1ST PAPAL TRIP TO THE ISLAND NATION ISN'T LIKELY TO OCCUR BEFORE 1991

Pope John Paul II has accepted an invitation by Fidel Castro to visit Cuba, a atican official said Monday. The visit would be the first by a pope to the island nation.

A date for the trip has not been set, and a Cuban diplomat said it apparently would not occur before 1991.Castro's invitation was extended to the pope on Friday during a private audience he held with Jose Felipe Carneado, chief of the Cuban government office for religious affairs, according to Joaquin Navarro, Vatican spokesman.

Cuba has officially been atheist since the communist revolution 30 years ago that brought Castro to power.

"The date of the visit is yet to be established," Navarro said. "It's clear that it's not in the program yet," he said when asked about reports that the pope would go to Havana in 1991.

Cuba's Roman Catholic bishops recently invited the pope, who has praised improvements in the church's ability to carry out its mission in Cuba.

Havana and the Holy See have diplomatic relations.

A top Vatican official, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, visited Cuba in December and said later that the church has enjoyed much more freedom in recent years.

Fernando Faure, first secretary at the Cuban embassy to the Holy See, said Archbishop Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino of Havana brought a message from Castro to the pope when he visited the Vatican in April.

Faure said that Ortega has commented that a papal visit to Cuba would not take place before 1991.