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Fidel Castro and Pope Benedict begin historic meeting with a joke

Fidel Castro has met with Pope Benedict XVI in Havana, with the two reportedly joking about their age and Castro asking, "What does a pope do?"

fidel castro pope benedict havana cuba 2012 3 29Enlarge
Believers wait for the Pope Benedict XVI nearby a huge portrait of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara at Revolution Square in Havana, on March 28, 2012. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Fidel Castro has met with Pope Benedict XVI in Havana, with the two reportedly joking about their age and Castro asking, "What does a pope do?"

The Associated Press quoted Benedict, 84, as telling Castro, 85: "Yes, I'm old, but I can still do my job."

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, Castro — wearing a dark Reebok track suit and scarf  — later asked, "What does a pope do?"

The pontiff reportedly talked about his ministry, his foreign trips and his service to the Church.

The two spent 30 minutes chatting at the Vatican embassy, Reuters reported, after a Mass at which Benedict called for an end to the US trade embargo against Cuba, and for Cuba to allow more freedoms.

Around 300,000 people reportedly attending the Mass in Havana's sprawling Revolution Square.

"Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity," Benedict said.

More from GlobalPost: Pope in Havana: 'Cuba and the world need change'

According to the AP, the remark built upon a call by his predecessor John Paul II during his 1998 visit for Cuba to "open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba."

As he was waiting for the pope, Castro reportedly said he had great admiration for John Paul, whose visit helped improve strained relations between his communist government and the Church.

Despite appearing unsteady on his feet, he was also reportedly heard to tell the pope, "I have felt very good." 

During their meeting, Castro questioned Benedict about changes in Church liturgy, asking the pope to send him a book to help him reflect, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying.

More from GlobalPost: Pope in Cuba calls for change

The pair also discussed the problems of mankind from a religious, scientific and cultural point of view, the Hindustan Times wrote, adding that the pope also spoke to Castro about the problem of the absence of God in much of modern society.

During a departure ceremony at Havana airport, Benedict reiterated his view that Cuba could build "a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled," although it was more difficult "when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people."

"The present hour urgently demands that in personal, national and international co-existence we reject immovable positions and unilateral viewpoints," the German pope reportedly said in heavily accented Spanish.

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