Image: Metropolitan Kirill
Ramon Espinosa  /  AP
Metropolitan Kirill, second from left, the top foreign relations official in the Russian Church, blesses Cuba's first Russian Orthodox cathedral in Havana on Sunday.
updated 10/19/2008 4:04:12 PM ET 2008-10-19T20:04:12

Cuba's first Russian Orthodox cathedral was consecrated Sunday amid church bells, liturgical chants and the presence of President Raul Castro, in a sign of goodwill toward the island's former chief benefactor.

Russian diplomats and members of Cuba's dwindling Russian community crowded into the whitewashed seaside cathedral, which is topped by a gleaming gold dome.

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Castro attended the opening but left before the liturgical service that followed. His good relations with Russian officials date to Soviet times, and his older brother Fidel attended the consecration of a nearby Orthodox church for Greek and other non-Russian Orthodox Christians in 2004.

The new Our Lady of Kazan cathedral has been welcomed by many in Cuba's Russian community, which has dwindled to several hundred as most returned home following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Tens of thousands of Russian technicians and military officers lived in Cuba before the Soviet Union dissolved.

The Russian Church's top foreign relations official, Metropolitan Kirill, traveled from Moscow to perform Sunday's ceremony, which was also attended by Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon and other officials.

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