Pope Benedict has condemned the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, saying such measures “unfairly burden” the Cuban people.
The pontiff made his remarks as he wrapped up a three-day trip to Cuba, his first papal visit to the communist-run island.
Earlier Wednesday, Pope Benedict met with Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro.
He also also presided over outdoor mass Wednesday in Havana's Revolution Plaza, where tens of thousands of Cubans filled the plaza that marks the island's communist revolution.
A VOA reporter quoted some in the crowd as saying they thought it was great that Pope Benedict was in Cuba, but that they did not expect the visit would affect the country's political system.
The pope used his homily to praise the steps taken in Cuba to improve religious freedom, but he said more needs to be done.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said it asked the pope to raise with Cuban officials the case of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba after being convicted of crimes against the communist state. A U.S. spokeswoman said the request was made to the Vatican and through its diplomatic mission in Washington before Benedict arrived in Cuba on Monday.
A Vatican spokesman said the pope made a “humanitarian request” of Cuban President Raul Castro, but did not say if specific cases of political prisoners were discussed.
The spokesman said Pope Benedict also asked Mr. Castro to officially designate Good Friday, the day Christians observe the death of Jesus, as a national holiday.
On Tuesday, the pontiff briefly met with Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother and successor.
Pope Benedict went to Cuba on a mission to boost the Church's influence and encourage Cubans to seek political change in order to build a “renewed and open society.”
But Vice President Marino Murillo said Tuesday there would not be political reform in Cuba.
The pope's visit comes 14 years after his predecessor, John Paul, made the first papal visit to the communist-run island. The Roman Catholic Church has since grown to become the most influential institution next to the government. Cuba was officially an atheist state from 1959 until a constitutional change in 1992 abolished atheism as the state creed and called for separation of church and state. At that time, the Communist Party also lifted its ban on members with religious beliefs.
Cuba is the last stop on the pontiff's five-day Latin American trip that began last week in Mexico.