By Andrew Cawthorne
HAVANA, April 9 (Reuters) - Cuba's Roman Catholic Church, which won unprecedented access on the communist-run island during Pope John Paul's tour, said on Thursday it viewed Easter celebrations here as a test of the papal visit's legacy.
"It's like a thermometer. We will see if all those words were just for the moment, or if they were really intentions that stay for the future," Fernando de la Vega, spokesman for the Havana archbishop's office, told Reuters.
In keeping with its policy of not antagonizing Cuba's authorities by acting without permission, the church says it has made two "moderate" requests for the weekend celebrations.
One of those, to hold an open-air Mass on Saturday night in Havana's Cathedral Square to celebrate Christ's resurrection, has already been granted, said de la Vega. But the second request, for some churches to parade in streets an image of the crucified Christ on Easter Friday, has not been allowed.
Last weekend, a few churches in Havana were permitted to hold Palm Sunday processions outside their buildings. But attendance at church services was generally low, reflecting the still small number of practicing Catholics in Cuba.
"The big idea for the church is not to lose the space that we had won, thanks to the pope's visit, in the street, outside the places of worship," said de la Vega.
"But the idea is also not to do anything without permission because if there is trouble, we will be blamed."
After decades of being kept firmly in its place by Fidel Castro's government, the church hopes to build on concessions brought about by the papal visit in January.
The run-up to the visit was the first opportunity in decades for priests to hold services outside of their churches. Also, the broadcasting of the huge open-air papal Masses on state television was also a first since Fidel Castro's 1959 Marxist revolution and later proclamation of an atheist state.
During his visit, the Polish-born pope -- who received a courteous welcome from Castro and was warmly received by Cubans -- called for the church to be given more latitude.
The pontiff reminded the world of Cuba again on Thursday by presiding in a Holy Week Mass which included a collection to buy medical supplies for the sick in the Caribbean island. In Havana, government spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez welcomed the measure as "positive" and said state aid agencies would be available to distribute the donations.
State media have given some short coverage of the Church's Easter plans. But unlike most of Latin America and the Caribbean, there are no public holidays in Cuba to mark Easter.
De la Vega said the Easter celebrations would test "the good faith" of both the church and government, and provide the Cuban people with another important religious focus.
"The number of people going to Masses -- and the number of baptisms -- is above levels before the pope's visit, but as a percentage of the population, it is still very low," he said, citing the example of his parish where just 300 out of 70,000 people attended church.
The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the leading religion, saying some 70 percent of Cuba's 11 million people are Catholics. That figure includes many followers of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria, who see no conflict with Catholicism.
Many Cubans who call themselves Catholics, however, have never been to church and lack even basic knowledge of Christianity.
"Easter? I didn't even know it was Easter! The only thing people are waiting for at the moment is the baseball series," said Hernan Menendez, a student, referring to the culmination of the Cuban baseball championship.