Pope Benedict has met Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro after saying mass in Havana, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
The meeting comes towards the end of the Pope’s three-day visit to the Communist-run island, during which the pontiff has called for greater freedoms, and a bigger role for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuban society.
The former Cuban leader announced late yesterday that he would happily meet with Benedict, saying he was asking for just a ‘few minutes of his very busy time’ while the Pope is in Havana.
Scroll down for video
Greeting the crowds: Pope Benedict XVI met Cuban President Raul Castro during a visit to the Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, and will now meet longtime dictator Fidel Castro
Brothers: Fidel Castro (left) pictured with his brother Raul at a Communist Party Congress conference in 2011
Historic: Pope John Paul II met Fidel Castro (L) during a mass celebrated in Havana’s Revolution Square in 1998
The Vatican had already said Benedict
was available, so the confirmation from Castro was all that was needed
to seal the appointment and end weeks of speculation about whether the
longtime dictator would repeat the meeting he held with Pope John Paul
II during his historic 1998 visit.
‘I will happily greet His Excellency Pope Benedict XVI as I did John Paul II, a man for whom contact with children and the humble raised feelings of affection,’ Castro wrote.
‘That’s why I decided to ask for a few minutes of his very busy time when I heard from the mouth of our foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, that he would be agreeable.’
The audience and Benedict’s Mass in Revolution Plaza come 14 years after John Paul preached on the same spot before hundreds of thousands of people, Fidel among them.
Meeting of minds: Pope Benedict (left) and President Raul Castro (right) enjoyed an exchange of ideas amid the stained glass of the Revolution Palace
The Pope appealed for political change after five decades of one-party
rule shortly before a 55-minute closed-door meeting with President Raul
History lesson: President Raul met with the Pope at the Revolution Palace in Havana
The Pope has been welcomed to Cuba by President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, and the pair held a 55-minute closed-door meeting on Tuesday, the pontiff’s second day on the island.
Brief video feeds showed President Castro greeting Benedict at the Presidential Palace and then later seeing him off.
Days after dismissing the Marxist ideology on which the Cuban system is based, Benedict continued to gently press themes highly sensitive to Cuban government in his prayer and short speech at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre near the eastern city of Santiago.
However, the island’s communist leaders quickly rejected the Roman Catholic leader’s appeal for political change after five decades of one-party rule.
‘I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans,’ the Pope said.
‘I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty.’
It wasn’t long before a top official back in Havana responded.
‘In Cuba, there will not be political reform,’ said Marino Murillo, Cuba’s economic czar and a vice president.
A warm welcome: The Pope and the Cuban leader share a cheerful moment
Days after dismissing the Marxist ideology on which the Cuban system is based, Benedict continued to gently press themes highly sensitive to Cuban government in his prayer and short speech
Pointed words: The Pope has kept his language lofty, his criticism vague and open to interpretation
Out in force: A group of Cardinals gathered to meet the Holy Father on the steps of the Revolution Palace
The Pope has kept his language lofty, his criticism vague and open to interpretation, but Mr Murillo’s comments left no room for doubt, and they were quickly picked up by pro-government blogs and on Twitter accounts.
Raul Castro has said that opening up Cuba’s political system would inevitably spell doom for its socialist project since any alternative party would be dominated by enemies across the Florida Straits and beyond.
Alfredo Mesa, a Cuban-American National Foundation board member whose trip to Cuba was organized by the Miami Archdiocese, said the government’s strong reaction would reinforce the pope’s message and the need for change.
‘I’d rather have them say this now than tomorrow,’ Mr Mesa said.
During a quiet moment at the shrine of the Virgin of Charity, Benedict also prayed for more Cubans to embrace the faith in a country that is the least Catholic in Latin America.
While most Cubans are nominally Catholic, fewer than 10 per cent practice the faith.
Celebration: Cuba is the least Catholic country in Latin America, but pilgrims from around the word gathered to attend a mass at the Catedral of Havana yesterday
Historic event: Pope Benedict has been welcomed by Raul Castro (left) and Cuban Catholics will be thrilled by the news that he is to meet the country’s former leader Fidel Castro
Local flavor: The Pope visited the ‘Virgen de la Caridad del Combre’, an important local site
Welcoming: Cuban president Raul Casto greeted Pope Benedict XVI at the Santiago airport on Monday
A visit: Pope Benedict will be spending three days in the communist country, leaving Wednesday afternoon
The pontiff knelt before the crowned, wooden statue, which stood on a covered table shrouded in blue and white cloth. Helped by two bishops, the 84-year-old pontiff rose and approached the icon, lit a candle and stood in prayer as a choir sang hymns.
He called on all Cubans ‘to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials.’
The Pope pointedly referred to the Virgin by her popular name, La Mambisa, in a gesture to the many non-Catholics on the island who nonetheless venerate the statue as an Afro-Cuban deity. Mambisa is the word for the Cuban fighters who won independence from Spain at the turn of the last century.
The pontiff knelt before the crowned, wooden statue, which stood on a covered table shrouded in blue and white cloth
In subtle ways, the pope has acknowledged a lack of faith in the island nation, and tried to make his trip appealing to potential believers.
The visit is timed to the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the statue of the Virgin to two fishermen and an African slave in Cuba’s Bay of Hipe.
Dunia Felipillo, 45, said she was proud to see the pope praying before the Virgin of Charity, even though she herself was not Catholic.
‘We all ask favors of la Cachita,’
she said, using the Cuban slang for the Virgin, as she watched the
ceremony on TV from the lobby of a Santiago hotel.
frequent references to the Virgin also highlighted what the church
shares with Cuba’s nonreligious population, in contrast to his views
that would spark more opposition, such as the church’s position on
divorce and abortion and his strong comments against Marxism.
has emphasized devotion to Mary throughout his Latin America trip, also
making frequent reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe earlier in Mexico.
But he has also warned the faithful in the past not to overdo it and forget that Christianity is about Christ.
dissidents on the island say they still don’t know the man who yelled
‘Down with the Revolution! Down with the dictatorship!’ before the
Pope’s Mass on Monday in Santiago.
of the incident showed him being slapped by another man wearing the
uniform of a first-aid worker before security agents separated them.
seemed to walk with renewed vigor Tuesday as he greeted officials and
clergy when his plane arrived in Havana. The previous evening, his
spokesman acknowledged that the Pope was fatigued from days of traveling
Fan club: A group of women dressed in white T-shirts reading ‘Welcome’ in Spanish greeted the Pope at the Jose Marti International airport
En route: The trip is a part of a region-wide tour of several Latin American countries. His last stop was in Mexico
Sightseeing: During his time in Cuba, the Pope visited a number of sanctuaries revered by both faithful and nominal members of the Cuban Catholic community
Unscripted moment: A gust of wind caught the Pope’s cape during his visit to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre
He was greeted on the tarmac by clergy, government officials and children who played music, danced and offered him flowers.
Ana Blanco, a 47-year-old Havana resident complained about people being told to attend a papal Mass on Wednesday in Havana, saying the pressure seemed odd in a country that in her early years taught her religion was wrong.
‘Now there’s this visit by the pope, and I don’t agree with giving it so much importance or making anyone go to the Mass or other activities,’ the office worker said.
‘Before it was bad, now it’s good. That creates confusion.’
Connecting: The Pope has paid close attention to local customs, particularly the great reverence paid to the Virgin Mary throughout Latin America, though he stressed that devotees should focus instead on Christ
Drawing a crowd: While most Cubans are nominally Catholic, fewer than 10 per cent practice the faith
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who led a pilgrimage of about 300 mostly Cuban-Americans to the island for Benedict’s visit, got a sustained standing ovation Tuesday when he gave a homily in a Havana cathedral packed mostly with Floridians.
Archbishop Wenski called for increased respect for human rights and political change on the island, while also warning against unbridled capitalism.
‘The Pope and the Cuban Church want a transition that is dignified for the human being, dignified for Cubans,’ he said in Spanish.
‘The Church wants a soft landing … and a future of hope.’
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, in Havana receiving radiation treatment for cancer, sent his greetings to Benedict, but said there was no plan to meet with the pope: ‘They have their agenda. I’m not going to be interfering at all.’
Diplomatic: The Pope’s plane flew the Cuban and Vatican flags when it landed on Monday
Share this article:
Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.
The comments below have not been moderated.
Good maybe he can give the old commie his last rights- surprising how he seems to be embracing religion just before he pegs it.
The Catholic church offers the ‘third space’, a neutral and culturally respected centre where the traumas and psychological damage post 1959…a society that tore itself …can find space to meet and heal.
10% go to church….because the churches are being reopened and a seminary has started training Cubans…this opportunity will be welcomed by tens of thousands.
Good luck and best wishes to the wonderful Cuban people.
They have suffered much.
Just watched the Mass on EWTN in Revolution Square. It was beautiful. A commentator said his grandparents and parents who were forced into exile by the Castro regime, would have loved to have lived to see it.
@Les, Thailand – The Roman Catholic Church has done more for the world than you could ever imagine. Your comment is shallow.
why have my comments been removed
A man of peace and hope and it is truly wonderful how the Cuban leader has welcomed him and Castro wants to speak with him.
As for the previous comment on hungry people having a meal – this would not solve the problem. It takes politicians and people with the courage of His Holiness to effect positive change in their countries. Then poverty and hunger stands a good chance of being eradicated.
And what crime has Fidel Castro actually committed that merits him being described as notorious?
I wonder how many hungry people could have a meal on that lovely bit of bling he parades round his neck.
The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.