According to an announcement made by the Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi, Pope Francis met today with former president Fidel Castro at his Havana home.
The meeting took place after the Pontiff celebrated mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. According to Lombardi, the meeting lasted approximately forty minutes, taking place in a “very family-like and informal” setting.
The Apostolic Nuncio Giorgio Lingua accompanied Francis during his visit with the Cuban leader. Fidel Castro’s wife, children, and grandchildren–approximately ten people in total–were also present.
Lombardi explained that the Argentine pontiff and Castro discussed “current global problems,” especially those related to the environment.
The Vatican spokesperson said that Fidel Castro took the opportunity to ask Francis about “important issues in today’s world” that concern and interest the former Cuban president.
Apart from their conversation, Francis and Fidel Castro exchanged gifts. Specifically, the Pontiff gave Castro two books by Alessandro Pronzato, an expert in catechism, scripture, and a renowned theologian. One of the books is entitled “ Disturbing Gospels,” while the other focuses on the relationship between humor and religion.
The Pope also gave Castro copies of his apostolic exhortation “ Evangelii Gaudium,” and his famous encyclical on environmental issues “ Laudato si.”
For his part, the former Cuban president presented the Pope with a copy of “ Fidel and Religion,” an interview he gave to Brazilian theologian Frei Betto in 1985. The book’s dedication read: “To Pope Francis, on the occasion of his fraternal visit to Cuba. With the admiration and respect of the Cuban people.”
Fidel Castro, 89 years old, who retired from power in 2006 due to illness, also held a private meeting with Benedict XVI when he visited Cuba in 2012. On that occasion, the former president and several of his relatives travelled to the Apostolic Nunciature in order to see the Pontiff.
Translated by José Badué