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Pope speaks with Raul Castro, will meet Fidel

Catholic World News - March 28, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI met at length with Cuban President Raul Castro on March 27 as he neared the conclusion of his visit to the island nation. On Wednesday, March 28, he will meet with Fidel Castro before returning to Rome.

During his hour-long session with Raul Castro, the Pope reportedly pressed the Cuban leader to allow greater freedom for the work of the Church. Specifically, he asked Castro to make Good Friday a national holiday, so that the country’s Christians would have time to worship. During his historic 1998 visit to Cuba, Pope John Paul II made a similar request of Fidel Castro, who granted the Pontiff’s wish to make Christmas a holiday.

Vatican officials announced that Pope Benedict would speak privately with Fidel Castro on the final day of his visit. Although that meeting was not on the Pope’s official schedule for his 3-day visit to Cuba, it was widely expected. “I will happily greet His Excellency Pope Benedict XVI as I did John Paul II, a man for whom contact with children and the humble raised feelings of affection," Fidel Castro said.

Pope Benedict will make his final public appearance in Havana on Wednesday when he presides at an outdoor Mass, with several hundred thousand Cubans expected to participate. His return flight to Rome will leave later in the afternoon.

During his stay in Cuba the Pontiff has generally avoided political issues, but he has spoken of the failure of Marxism and the need to expand personal freedoms. Those words have been enough to spark cries for reform in the Castro regime, and to elicit a stern rebuke from government spokesman, who insist that political reform is out of the question. Marino Murillo, a senior government spokesman, insisted that “we are talking about updating the Cuban economic model to make our socialism sustainable.” But in several addresses to the Cuban people, Pope Benedict was certainly not talking about economic policies.

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