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Francis in Cuba: Pontiff makes detour to meet Fidel Castro

Pope Francis and Cuba's Fidel Castro shakes hands yesterdat (AP Photo/Alex Castro)

Pope francis took time out of his formal programme on Sunday to visit Cuba’s former leader, Fidel Castro. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that after Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square, Pope Francis was driven to the ailing 89-year-old’s residence for the meeting, which lasted 30 to 40 minutes. In the presence of Mr Castro’s wife, children and grandchildren, Fr Lombardi said, the meeting was “familial and informal”.

Pope Francis, he said, picked up on the conversation Benedict XVI had with Mr Castro in 2012. At that time, Fr Lombardi said Castro had asked about how the Church was 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 did not believe in God or acted as if God did not exist.

“In the end,” Fr 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 Mr Castro’s home ready to continue the discussion and fulfil Mr Castro’s desire to read more. Fr Lombardi said the Pope gave Mr Castro two books by the Italian catechist, Fr Alessandro Pronzato. One of the books was about the importance of humour 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 Fr Armando Llorente, who had been one of Mr Castro’s teachers in high school in Belen, Cuba. Pope Francis also brought the former Cuban leader copies of his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, and Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment. Mr Castro returned the favour by giving the Pope a copy of Fidel and Religion: A Conversation With Fidel Castro by Frei Betto. Later in the day, Pope Francis was to make a formal visit to the younger brother, President Raul Castro, in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution.

Jesus calls you, Cubans told

Celebrating the feast of St Matthew, a day he considers a turning point in his own journey of faith, Pope Francis told thousands of Cubans that Jesus knows who they really are and calls them to walk with him. Arriving in the city of Holguín, the Pope went directly to Revolution Square for the feast day Mass.

The Pope explained that Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman occupiers, which meant he was seen as a traitor. But Jesus “looked at him with the eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before.

“And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart,” the Pope said. “It set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life,” just as Jesus’s merciful gaze gives new life to men and women today, he said. In 2013, while reflecting on the Caravaggio painting ‘The Calling of St Matthew,’ The Pope said: “That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.”