World

Castro's daughter sponsors blessing of Cuban gay couples a day before father visits pope

  • Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, blesses a gay couple as they lean in to kiss each other in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The blessing ceremony for gay couples was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

    Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, blesses a gay couple as they lean in to kiss each other in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The blessing ceremony for gay couples was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)  (The Associated Press)

  • Mariela Castro, center, daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, takes part in a parade with Cuba's LGBT community in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. A day before Cuban President Raul Castro visits the Vatican, his daughter sponsored a blessing ceremony for gay couples on an island where gay marriage remains illegal. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

    Mariela Castro, center, daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, takes part in a parade with Cuba's LGBT community in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. A day before Cuban President Raul Castro visits the Vatican, his daughter sponsored a blessing ceremony for gay couples on an island where gay marriage remains illegal. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)  (The Associated Press)

  • Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, carries a gay pride flag before giving blessings to couples from the LGBT community in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The blessing ceremony on an island where gay marriage remains illegal was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17.  (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

    Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, carries a gay pride flag before giving blessings to couples from the LGBT community in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The blessing ceremony on an island where gay marriage remains illegal was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)  (The Associated Press)

A day before Cuban President Raul Castro visits the Vatican, his daughter has sponsored a blessing ceremony for gay couples on an island where gay marriage remains illegal.

Nearly two dozen gay couples held hands or embraced as American and Canadian Protestant clergyman blessed them Saturday. It was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17.

Castro's daughter Mariela heads Cuba's Center for Sex Education, which has been pushing for gay rights in a country with a history of persecuting homosexuals.

Cuba has also been growing closer to the Catholic Church, which had a troubled relationship with the communist government during much of the Cold War. Mariela Castro was careful not to call Saturday's ceremony a wedding.