A Havana bus driver fixes a poster, with an image of Pope Francis and a message reading "Welcome to Cuba", on the windscreen. On right is a bronze sculpture of revolutionary leader Che Guevara. Photo courtesy of REUTERS, by Alexandre Meneghini

Two Cuban dissidents say they were detained on way to see pope

People react as Pope Francis arrives at the airport in Havana, Sept 19, 2015. Pope Francis begins a nine-day tour of Cuba and the United States on Saturday where he will see both the benefits and complexities of a fast-evolving detente between the old Cold War foes that he helped broker. Photo courtesy Alexandre Meneghini

People react as Pope Francis arrives at the airport in Havana, Sept 19, 2015. Pope Francis begins a nine-day tour of Cuba and the United States on Saturday where he will see both the benefits and complexities of a fast-evolving detente between the old Cold War foes that he helped broker. Photo courtesy Alexandre Meneghini


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HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban police detained two prominent dissidents who had been invited to Havana's cathedral for evening prayers with Pope Francis on Sunday, stopping them from seeing the pope for the second straight day, the women said.

Miriam Leiva and Martha Beatriz Roque, two dissidents on the Communist-run island, each said they were stopped separately by state security agents before they could reach the cathedral.

It was the second straight day that police prevented them from attending events with the pope. The women said they had been invited by the Vatican's diplomatic envoys to Havana.

"The authorities told me I would not be permitted to attend any event related to Pope Francis," Leiva said.


READ: Pope Francis in Cuba: ‘We do not serve ideas. We serve people’


An estimated 50 dissidents were detained and prevented from attending papal events, according to the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Most were released after a few hours but the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country's largest dissident group, said four of its activists remained in jail as of late Sunday. Those four had attempted to deliver a letter to the pope, one of whom got close enough to make contact with Francis in his popemobile, UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer said.

Leiva and Roque were believed to be the only ones specifically invited to attend vespers at the cathedral.


READ: Christ, Karl Marx and Che: Fidel Castro offers the pope his religious views


A Vatican spokesman said some Cubans were invited by telephone on Sunday but he could not confirm their names.

Roque was the only woman among 75 dissidents jailed in the so-called Black Spring of 2003. They were released in 2010 and 2011 with the intervention of the Church.

Leiva, formerly a member of the dissident group Ladies in White, writes critically about the Cuban government.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Eric Beech