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Good Friday Declared Cuban Holiday At Pope Benedict's Request

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* Benedict sought the holiday in meeting with Raul Castro

* Government will decide whether to make it permanent

HAVANA, March 31 (Reuters) - Cuba has declared next week's Good Friday as a holiday in recognition of a request by Pope Benedict and his "transcendental visit" to the island, state media said on Saturday.

The communist government will decide later whether to make Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate Christ's death, a permanent holiday, it said.

It will be celebrated this year on April 6.

Benedict requested the holiday, part of Easter celebrations, in a meeting on Tuesday in Havana with President Raul Castro, the Vatican said.

After Cuba's 1959 revolution, then leader Fidel Castro ended religious holidays as part of the transformation to communism.

He reinstated Christmas to honor a request by Pope John Paul when he visited Cuba in 1998, in a trip that marked a turn for the better in Church-state relations, which have improved in recent years.

Benedict, who came to Cuba for three days starting on Monday after a stop in Mexico, urged change on the island and asked that the Church be able to do more in a time of potentially painful transition.

President Castro, who succeeded older brother Fidel Castro in 2008, has undertaken economic reforms that will include the slashing one million jobs from government payrolls. (Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Jeff Franks and Sandra Maler)

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