HAVANA (AP) _ Pope John Paul II landed in Cuba on Wednesday to start a historic five-day visit, bringing a message of reconciliation in the long, bitter U.S.-Cuban standoff, and of ``truth and hope'' for Cuba's hard-pressed people.

President Fidel Castro was waiting under a blazing sun to greet John Paul, leading the communist nation's state welcome for the pontiff who has made a 20-year crusade of fighting communism.

Black-robed cardinals in scarlet sashes stood among Castro's straight-shouldered soldiers at Havana's airport, crowded with foreign reporters and camera crews.

Cubans welcomed returning exiles and banner headlines heralded ``His Holiness'' in the last hours before John Paul's arrival. Even before his plane touched down, John Paul addressed two key themes of the visit _ pressing Cuba for more freedoms and the United States for ``changes'' in the Cuba embargo.