HAVANA TIMES — Cuban President Raul Castro told the media in Italy this morning that he sympathizes so much with Pope Francis that he could return to embrace Catholicism, reported dpa news.
“I read all the speeches of the pope,” Castro said in a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, after a one-hour audience with the pontiff at the Vatican.
“If the Pope continues to speak in that fashion, sooner or later I will begin to pray again and return to the Catholic Church, and I’m not joking,” said the brother of Fidel Castro.
While recalling that he was educated at a Jesuit school, Castro said the Argentine Pope joked with him saying that he [Raul] attended “many more masses” than him.
Pope Francis Receives Raul Castro in Private Audience
Cuban President Raul Castro, was received Sunday in a private audience at the Vatican by Pope Francis, mediator in the historic rapprochement taking place between the United States and Cuba since last December.
Castro arrived in the Paul VI Hall around 9:30 am (7:30 GMT). After about an hour of talks, the Pope said goodbye to the Cuban leader with a long and cordial shaking of hands, the Vatican Radio reported.
Castro gave Jorge Mario Bergoglio a commemorative medal of the 200 years of the Cathedral of Havana, of which only 25 were produced, and a painting by Cuban artist Kacho present in the delegation. The painting depicts a cross formed by boats traveling with immigrants and, according to the Cuban president, is a tribute to the commitment of the pontiff with refugees and their journey in July 2013 to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
“I thank the Holy Father for his contribution to the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States,” Castro told reporters after the meeting.
Both Washington and Havana acknowledged the role of the Argentine Pope, 78, in the negotiations to resume diplomatic relations between the two historic enemies after 50 years. In addition, the pope is scheduled to visit both Cuba and the United States this coming September.
After the audience at the Vatican, Castro moved to the residence of Italian Prime Minister, Palazzo Chigi, to have a meeting that also icluded Matteo Renzi, the current president of the Council of Ministers, which was followed by the press conference.
Raul Castro made his stop in Rome on his flight back from Moscow, where he participated in the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The event was boycotted by most Western leaders to protest the conflict in the Ukraine.
The exact dates of the Pope’s visit to Cuba have not yet been confirmed, but it will be before his expected arrival in Washington on September 23, from where he will also travel to New York and Philadelphia.
The last pope to visit Cuba was Benedict XVI in 2012. Pope John Paul II did the same back in 1998, in a historical tour that improved relations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church.
The influence of the Catholic Church in secular Cuba has been growing in recent years. It has become a regular interlocutor of the Castro government. In 2010 the Church brokered the release of some 100 political prisoners.