Raul Castro welcomes Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba

ANDREA RODRIGUEZ NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press Published:

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) -- Cuban President Raul Castro is telling Pope Benedict XVI that his country favors complete religious freedom.

Castro says in a welcome address that Cuba has good relations with all religious institutions.

Benedict arrived Monday in Santiago de Cuba on a special Alitalia flight that flew Cuban and Vatican flags from the cockpit as it taxied along the airport tarmac.

It halted next to a red carpet that led to two chairs underneath a canopy.

The pope clasped both hands with Castro, and the two walked side-by-side along the red carpet to the canopy. He blessed four children who welcomed him.

Raul held the 84-year-old Benedict's arm as the pontiff sat.