Raul Castro meets pope, says might return to the Church

Sun May 10, 2015 5:27pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro thanked Pope Francis on Sunday for brokering the thaw between Havana and Washington and said the pope so impressed him that he might return to the Catholic Church, despite being a communist.

The 83-year-old younger brother of Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel spoke with the Argentine-born pope for nearly an hour - unusually long for a papal meeting - during a meeting the Vatican said was strictly private and not a state visit.

Papal audiences on Sundays are extremely rare. Francis made an exception when Castro asked if he could stop in Rome on his way back from Moscow to thank Francis for the Vatican mediation between the United States and Cuba, Cuban officials said.

Leaving the meeting, Castro told reporters that he thanked the pope for the Vatican's contribution to December's historic resumption of diplomatic relations between the former foes after more than half a century of antagonism.

Later, at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Castro said he came out of the meeting with the pope "really impressed by his wisdom and his modesty".

"When the pope comes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his Masses and I will be happy to do so," he said, adding that he reads all of the speeches of Latin America's first pope, who has made defense of the poor a major plank of his papacy.

"I told the prime minister if the pope continues to talk as he does, sooner or later I will start praying again and return to the Catholic Church, and I am not kidding," he said.

Both of the Castro brothers were baptized as Catholics.   Continued...

Pope Francis (R) meets Cuban President Raul Castro during a private audience at the Vatican May 10, 2015.     REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/pool