May 5, 2015 / 6:24 PM / 2 years ago

Pope Francis to meet Cuban President Castro privately on Sunday

Pope Francis delivers a speech during a meeting with youths during his pastoral visit to the Church of S. Maria Regina Pacis in Ostia, near Rome, May 3, 2015.Giampiero Sposito

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis and Cuban President Raul Castro will meet privately on Sunday, a spokesman said, four months before the pontiff's trip to the Caribbean island, his first as leader of the Catholic Church.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Tuesday Castro's meeting with the first Latin American pope was strictly private and not an official state visit.

Francis leveraged the Vatican's ties to Cuba and the United States, writing letters to both Castro and President Barack Obama, to help foster December's historic announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the former foes.

The Vatican said last month Francis -- on the invitation of the Cuban government and the Cuban Roman Catholic Church -- would go to the predominantly Catholic island in September, before making a previously announced visit to the United States.

Reporting by Philip Pullella, writing by Steve Scherer, Editing by Larry King

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