Toronto An official of the pope's World Youth Day expressed disappointment Tuesday that 23 Cubans used the event as an opportunity to seek asylum.
The young Cubans who defected were among a delegation of about 200 Cubans who came to Canada for World Youth Day.
"It is very unfortunate. It's not the reason why we put on World Youth Day," said Paul Kilbertus, the event's communications director. "They came for other reasons and they took advantage."
Kilbertus said the event was about spiritual renewal. He said organizers worked closely with the Canadian government to ensure people from all over the world came to Canada for the right reasons.
"You trust people and you trust the good judgment of people and when people potentially abuse that trust it's sad," he said.
In Havana, Bishop Carlos Baladron of the Cuban province of Guantanamo said the Church is not facing repression on the island, despite the defections.
Andres Perera, a lawyer representing 15 of the defectors, said the Cubans plan to visit Toronto immigration offices and apply for refugee status. He told CBC TV they'll be claiming political persecution
The defectors hid out in residences throughout Toronto after escaping the watch of Cuban security police as Pope John Paul celebrated Mass on Sunday, said Cuban Canadian Foundation president Ismael Sambra.