Castro gets into the festive spirit

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President Fidel Castro is offering to declare Christmas an official holiday this year and share Cuba's limited resources to ensure the success of the Pope's visit to the Communist country.

During a three-hour speech broadcast on Sunday night on national television, Mr Castro was unusually warm in his comments about the Church and the Pope, calling John Paul's visit here from 21 to 25 January an "honour for Cuba, and a valiant gesture."

It was the strongest sign of Mr Castro's resolve to ensure a trouble- free visit - the first by a pope to the island.