Cuba's first Russian Orthodox cathedral opens

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.

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.

"This is a monument to Russian-Cuban friendship and all the efforts that have preserved our relations including the most difficult moments of the Cold War," Metropolitan Kiril, a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, said at the opening.