HAVANA (AP) -- Pope Francis delivered an unprecedented televised message to the Cuban people ahead of a four-day trip to the island, telling them on state television Thursday night that Jesus "never abandons us" and he "loves you very much."
The four-minute recording of Francis was remarkable in a country led by a communist government that maintained a policy of official hostility to the church for years after taking power. Relations have warmed since Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998 but Roman Catholic clergy speaking on state media remains a rare sight.
"I want to send you a very simple message but one that I think is important and necessary: Jesus loves you very much, Jesus seriously love you," the pope said, looking directly into the camera from behind an undecorated desk. "He never abandons us and when we don't behave as he hopes, he always remains by our side, ready to receive us and comfort us."
A letter from John Paul was published in state media ahead of his 1998 trip to Cuba, while Pope Benedict XVI did not send a message before visiting in 2012, according to the Cuban Bishops' Conference.
Few Cubans are regular church-goers but the Argentine pope is well-regarded in Cuba for his Latin American roots, his critiques of capitalism, his expressions of concern for common people and his role in mediating the declaration of detente between the U.S. and Cuba in December 2014.
He arrives Saturday afternoon and will celebrate Mass in Havana's Revolution Square before meeting with priests, believers and young people in the capital, then heading to the eastern cities of Holguin and Santiago.
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