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Raul Castro attends Cuba's first beatification

 Cuban President Raul Castro, attended the beatification of 19th century 'father of the poor' Jose Ollalo on Saturday.

The BBC reports that the first beatification ceremony in Cuba took place in front of thousands of Catholics at the Church of the Virgin of Charity. The ceremony in Camaguey was also broadcast on state television.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva from Portugal, presided over the Mass. Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Papal Nuncio Luigi Bonazzi, Camaguey Archbishop Juan Garcia, and about 20 Cuban and foreign bishops were also present.

The unannounced arrival of Mr Castro was greeted with applause, a sign of the improving relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church.

Doves were released and bells rung as Friar Olallo's remains, in a gold coloured urn, were taken in a procession through the city.

Friar Olallo, known as 'the poor people's priest' was a member of the Hospitallier Order of Saint John of God and helped the sick and wounded during Cuba's first war of independence (1868-1878) against Spain. He defied Spanish orders barring members of religious orders from Cuba, and was the sole Hospitallier on the island at the time.

Friar Olallo is not the first Cuban to be beatified. Cuban-born Fray Jose Lopez Piteira was beatified in 2007, but the ceremony took place in Spain where he died during the Spanish civil war.

Source: BBC/CCT