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Raul Castro ‘may return to the Church’ thanks to Pope Francis

Cuban President Raul Castro gestures as he leaves a private meeting with Pope Francis on Sunday (CNS)

Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is considering returning to the Catholic Church thanks to the influence of Pope Francis.

Mr Castro, who was speaking on Sunday after visiting the Pope in the Vatican, paid tribute to Francis’s efforts towards helping restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, which was announced in December, and said that he was very impressed by the Pontiff’s “wisdom, his modesty, and all his virtues that we know he has.”

“I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein,” he said.

“I read all the speeches of the Pope, his commentaries, and if the Pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the Church, and I’m not joking.”

The Pope will visit Cuba on his way to the US in September and Mr Castro vowed to attend all of the papal Masses that Pope Francis celebrates during his time in the country.

Mr Castro, who was baptised Catholic, added that the Pontiff “is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too … I always studied at Jesuit schools.”

It is the first time Mr Castro has publicly stated he intends to possibly return to the Church and the comments also represent a wider move by Cuba to improve relations with the Catholic Church.

After the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, the Communist government took over Church properties, expelled members of the clergy from the country and declared itself an atheist nation.

“I am from the Cuban Communist Party, that doesn’t allow (religious) believers, but now we are allowing it, it’s an important step,” Mr Castro said.

During the Cuban president’s private audience at the Vatican, he and Pope Francis exchanged gifts, with Mr Castro giving the Pope a commemorative medal of the Cathedral of Havana and a framed contemporary artwork. Francis gave Mr Castro a copy of his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, and a medallion depicting St Martin covering the poor with his cloak.