A senior Vatican official said that Pope Benedict would like to see Fidel Castro on his trip to Cuba in March, but conceded that the meeting would depend on Castro’s health, according to Reuters.
Pope Benedict is officially scheduled to meet President Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, but there is no mention of Fidel Castro in his official program.
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Reuters said Raul Castro is scheduled to welcome the pope at Santiago de Cuba on March 26 and will hold private talks with him in Havana the next day.
One of the reasons for the papal visit is to mark the 400th anniversary since Cuba’s most famous religious icon, the statue of the Virgin of Charity, was discovered. A replica was taken on a 16-month pilgrimage around the island, according to Reuters.
According to the US Department of State, Cuba was officially an atheist state from 1959 to 1992, when a constitutional change provided for separation of church and state. Catholicism is the largest organized religion in Cuba, headed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
Ortega used his position to negotiate with President Castro about the release of political prisoners 2010, and criticized Cuba’s political system, calling for greater economic and political freedom, said the Associated Press. Ortega also oversaw Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998.
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Here is a CNN report from Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998: