Adios Navidad

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HAVANA: So that was Christmas. For the first time in 28 years, Cubans had a whole day off to sing, dance, feast and pray in celebration of the birth of baby Jesus -- all thanks to the power of the Pope. After yanking the holiday in 1969, purportedly because it interfered with the sugar harvest, Fidel Castro reinstated it this year at the urging of Pope John Paul in advance of his visit Jan. 21-25. Has the leader of the Western Hemisphere's only semi-Stalinist state finally seen the light?

TIME religion correspondent Richard Ostling reports that in recent months Castro has indeed allowed a number of open-air Catholic processions, and has ordered communist-controlled radio and TV to broadcast the Papal events. But Fidel's concessions to the Vatican are more like international PR than any newfound responsiveness to the clamoring of religious Cubans. On Jan. 25, the Pope will depart; government-stamped religion will likely leave with him. "Next Dec. 25," says Ostling, "it's back to the fields for the sugar harvest."