Cardinal John O'Connor of New York met with government and church leaders on the first day of his visit to this Communist nation, with all sides expressing hope his visit will help improve U.S-Cuban relations.

O'Connor is spending four days in Cuba as a guest of the Roman Catholic Church to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Felix Varela. The priest, who served in New York City from 1823 to 1853, is considered a Cuban hero in the struggle against Spanish colonial rule."It is my hope that Felix Varela will form a bridge -- a bridge between the church in Cuba and the church in New York," O'Con nor told reporters in Havana.