In his first speech after his arrival in Cuba, Pope Francis has called for the Church in the communist island to have “the freedom and the means” to pursue its mission.
Pope Francis also hailed improving ties between the US and Cuba as “an example of reconciliation for the whole world”.
The pontiff was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro after landing in the capital, Havana.
He is due to celebrate Mass on September 20 in Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.
Pope Francis will spend four days in Cuba before flying to the US.
Following his arrival on Cuba on September 19, thousands lined the route of the Pope’s motorcade to the home of the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba.
Pope Francis – the first pontiff to hail from Latin America – is credited with helping the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.
President Raul Castro has thanked Pope Francis for his contribution.
Speaking at the airport alongside Raul Castro, Pope Francis urged further support for Cuba’s Catholics “so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the kingdom to the existential peripheries of society”.
The Pope also called on Cuba and the US to “persevere on the path” of detente.
On September 17, the Vatican said it hoped the Pope’s visit would help bring an end to the 53-year-old US embargo and lead to more freedom and human rights in Cuba.
The following day, the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations.
Pope Francis’s trip will later take him to the US, which he will also be visiting for the first time since his election to the papacy.