The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami Friday canceled a planned pilgrimage by cruise ship from Miami for Pope John Paul's visit to Cuba next month after sailing into a storm of Cuban exile opposition.
Archbishop John Favalora said the pilgrimage had become a source of tension in Miami and south Florida, home to a large Cuban-American community and a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment.
"After prayerful reflection I have decided that it is in the best interests of the church in Miami to cancel the cruise ship and to lead a pilgrimage to Cuba by other means," Archbishop Favalora said in a statement.
The cancellation followed protests by right-wing Cuban exiles who said it was morally wrong to visit Cuba while it remained under President Fidel Castro's Communist government.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said though that their main objection had been to the ostensible luxury of the planned cruise ship pilgrimage, even though the ship's bars and casinos were to be closed and spiritual activities were planned during the crossing.
She said church officials were now considering chartering special planes to take pilgrims to see the Pope in Havana.
Meanwhile, in Havana, Castro held a rare meeting with Cuba's Roman Catholic hierarchy, just days after declaring Christmas an official holiday this year in honor of Pope John Paul II's upcoming visit. Isidro Gomez Santos, of the Communist Party's Office for Religious Affairs, described the meeting Thursday night as "positive," and said details would be made public later.
The pope is scheduled to visit Cuba Jan. 21-25, and Castro recently announced he had agreed to a number of church requests.
Miami's Cubans have been divided over the pilgrimage since it was first discussed. It would have allowed American Catholics to disembark in Havana and attend the pontiff's Mass in Revolution Square Jan. 25.
More than 400 people from the United States, Canada and Latin America, many of them not of Cuban descent, have already paid substantial amounts for berths on the Norwegian Majesty cruise boat.
Those who had booked berths on the cruise would have priority for the flights if they take place, Ms. Agosta said.