Pope Francis has arrived in Cuba on his first visit to the island.
After landing in the Cuban capital Havana and being greeted by President Raul Castro he called for the church in Cuba to have “the freedom and the means” to pursue its mission.
He will spend four days in Cuba before flying to the US.
The first pontiff to hail from Latin America, Pope Francis is credited with helping the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.
Mr Castro has thanked the Pope for his contribution.
Pope Francis said the church would continue to “support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns” and called on Cuba and the US to “persevere on the path” of detente.
He hailed the improving relationship between the two countries as “an example of reconciliation for the whole world”.
On Thursday, the Vatican said it hoped the pope’s visit would help bring an end the 53-year-old US embargo and lead to more freedom and human rights on the island.
Yesterday the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel with communist Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations.
Pensioner Diego Carrera told AP the visit was “like a breath of hope blowing over Cuba” because of the role that the Pope played in the reestablishment of relations with the U.S.