The Levant – – Pope Francis met Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Sunday hours after warning Cubans to beware the dangers of ideology and the lure of selfishness as their country enters a new era of closer ties with the United States.
Latin America’s first pope and Castro, the region’s last surviving leftist icon of the 20th century, discussed religion and world affairs at the home of the 89-year-old retired president for about 40 minutes.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the meeting, which included Castro’s wife and other family members, was “very relaxed, fraternal and friendly.
Francis gave Castro several of his official papal writings, two books on spirituality and a book and CD on the writings of Father Armando Llorente, a priest who taught Castro in Jesuit prep school more than 70 years ago.
Castro, who wore a blue-and-white track suit, gave him a copy of “Fidel and Religion,” a 1985 book of interviews with a Brazilian priest which lifted a taboo on speaking about religion in Cuba, then officially atheist.
Francis later went to the Palace of the Revolution, where he held private talks for about an hour with President Raul Castro, Fidel’s 84-year-old younger brother.
Raul Castro, an atheist like his brother, surprised the pope by giving him a sculpture of a life-sized crucified Jesus Christ against a backdrop of fishing nets and oars.
Francis met with Fidel Castro, who built a one-party state that improved health and education services for Cubans but also limits democratic freedoms and represses dissent, after celebrating Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square.
There, he spoke beneath massive portraits of revolutionary leaders Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos built into the facades of state buildings.
To welcome the pope, who helped bring about the recent rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, a similarly giant poster of Jesus Christ was hung nearby.