HAVANA (CNS) — Although it was not part of his formal program, Pope Francis took time after Sunday Mass to visit Cuba’s ailing former leader, Fidel Castro.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that after the Mass Sept. 20 in Havana’s Revolution Square, Pope Francis was driven to the ailing 89-year-old’s residence for the meeting, which lasted 30-40 minutes.
In the presence of Castro’s wife, children and grandchildren, Father Lombardi said, the meeting was “familial and informal.”
Pope Francis, he said, picked up on the conversation Pope Benedict XVI had with Castro in 2012. At that time, Father Lombardi had said Castro had asked about how the church is handling the ethical challenges posed by scientific and technological developments and the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the pope’s concerns about a growing number of people who don’t believe in God or act as if God does not exist.
“In the end,” Father Lombardi said at the time, “Commandante Fidel asked the pope to send him a few books” dealing with the questions he had.
Pope Francis arrived at the meeting at Castro’s home ready to continue the discussion and fulfill Castro’s desire to read more. Father Lombardi said the pope gave Castro two books by the Italian catechist, Father Alessandro Pronzato. One of the books is about the importance of humor and happiness in the spiritual life and the other on the Gospel and social issues.
In addition, he said, the pope brought a book and two CDs of homilies by Jesuit Father Armando Llorente, who had been one of Castro’s teachers in high school in Belen, Cuba.
To round off the gifts, Pope Francis also brought the former Cuban leader copies of his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” and “Laudato Si’,” his encyclical on the environment.
Castro returned the favor by giving the pope a copy of “Fidel & Religion: A Conversation With Fidel Castro” by Frei Betto.
After lunch and a rest, Pope Francis made a formal visit to President Raul Castro in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution.
While the pope and president were meeting privately, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, his secretary of state, and top Vatican diplomats were holding talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla and his staff.
The pope and president spent about 45 minutes speaking privately before exchanging gifts. Pope Francis gave the president a mosaic of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre made in the Vatican mosaic studio. The pope invited the artist, Valentina Ambrosi, to join his entourage for the trip, and he introduced her to Castro.
Castro’s gift to the pope was an enormous crucifix, which had been covered with a huge while cloth. The president ceremoniously unveiled it, revealing the cross made of bundled boat oars.
Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Pope urges Cuba’s youths, consecrated people to love and hope
NEXT: Serve people, not ideology, pope tells Cubans at Havana Mass
Share this story