Though a meeting with Fidel Castro was not on Pope Francis’ official itinerary, it was anticipated that the Pope might meet with the Communist leader and in fact, the meeting took place today.
Vatican Radio reported that the Holy Father met with Fidel Castro shortly after this morning’s Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.
The meeting, which lasted around a half hour, included Castro’s wife, children and grandchildren.
Vatican Radio reported that the Pope gave Castro several books, including one by Italian priest Alessandro Pronzato and another by Spanish Jesuit Segundo Llorentea. The Holy Father also gave him a book and two CDs of his homilies, as well as his two encyclical letters, Lumen Fidei and Laudato si’.
In return, Castro gave Pope Francis an interview book titled “Fidel and Religion,” written in 1985 by Brazilian priest Frei Betto. The dedication reads: “For Pope Francis, on occasion of his visit to Cuba, with the admiration and respect of the Cuban people.”
The director of the Vatican press office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said the meeting was “familiar and informal,” and the two men spoke about “protecting the environment and the great problems of the contemporary world.”
Father Lombardi compared the private encounter to that which took place with Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, saying Fidel Castro asked Pope Benedict many questions, while Sunday’s meeting with Pope Francis was “more of a conversation.”
During the official welcome ceremony upon Francis’ arrival Saturday in Cuba, the Pope asked President Rafael Castro, Fidel’s brother, to “convey my sentiments of particular respect and consideration to your brother.”