Havana, Cuba, Feb 10, 2020 / 03:45 pm (CNA) – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is in the midst of a visit to Cuba, having been invited to the country by its bishops and its president.

During his Feb. 7-12 visit, he is saying Mass at the Havana cathedral and at the Basilica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre; meeting with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giampiero Gloder; visiting Catholic charities and a seminary; and meeting with president Miguel Diaz-Canel.

According to the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Dolan “accepted the invitation after consultation with the United States State Department and the Holy See.”

Diaz-Canel had met Cardinal Dolan in 2018, and while in New York to speak to the United Nations, he met with the cardinal and gave him a statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

Accompanying the cardinal are Bishop Octavio Cisneros, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn; Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of the New York archdiocese’s Catholic Charities; Wanda Vasquez, Hispanic ministry director for the archdiocese; and Fr. Leopoldo Perez, Christopher Ljungquist, and Richard Coll of the US bishops’ conference.

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista. Since the revolution, relations between the US and Cuba have been frigid.

Relations improved under the Obama administration, but many of the reforms were reversed shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The US bishops said that president Trump’s changes to US policy on Cuba would end up weakening human rights on the island.

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in solidarity with the bishops of Cuba and the Holy See, has long held that human rights and religious freedom will be strengthened through more engagement between the Cuban and American people, not less,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces said in June 2017.

Bishop Cantú said Trump was correct that serious human rights concerns remain in Cuba.

“The Cuban government must be urged to respect religious freedoms and to extend greater social, political and economic rights to all Cubans,” he said. “The fruits of investment in Cuba should benefit individuals and families, and not the security forces.”

Cuba has seen some increase in religious freedom in recent years.

Under communism churches and schools were closed, and priests were exiled or assigned to re-education camps. The Church was driven underground until religious tensions in the country began to ease in 1991. St. John Paul II then visited the island in 1998. Pope Francis played a role in the 2015 restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.