Pope Francis began his trip to Cuba on Saturday by praising the normalization of relations with its former Cold War foe, the United States, calling it an example to the rest of the world.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, told reporters the two discussed religion and world affairs in a “very familiar, very informal” meeting in Havana, following a sermon attended by thousands of Cubans.
The Pope gave him several books, including one on the writings of a Jesuit priest who taught Mr Castro in school more than 70 years ago and had to flee the island after the Cuban Revolution.
Four dissidents opposed to Cuba’s communist regime were arrested when they tried approaching Pope Francis in Havana on Sunday, an activist group reported. Castro’s wife, children and grandchildren also were present in the meeting.
Maria Regla González, a 57-year-old teacher, said she appreciated Francis’ message of reconciliation and unity for all Cubans, and said Francis was particularly able to convey it given he is Latin American and speaks their language.
Thousands filled Havana’s Revolution Plaza for the Pope’s first Mass. Believers and non-believers alike streamed into the square before dawn to wait for Francis to arrive, and they erupted in cheers when he made his first drive-through the crowd in his open-sided popemobile.
At least three high-profile dissidents said they were detained by Cuban security officials Sunday after the papal ambassador to Cuba invited them to public events where they could be greeted by the pope.
“Francis has come to bless this new union between Cuba and the U.S. “, said Enrique Mesa, a tourism worker.
A priest places a skullcap on Pope Francis during Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday September 20, 2015. The pope’s eight-day tour, which will also take him to the United States for the first time, follows the announcement of the US-Cuban rapprochement, which paved the way for the estranged neighbors to renew diplomatic relations in July.
He will fly to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and head to New York Thursday evening for a two-day visit that will culminate with a Mass at Madison Square Garden.
However, only the US Congress can lift it and the Republican leadership has defied President Obama’s calls to do so. So far the Pope has done no more than call for more freedom for the Church, which is fine in its way, but the Catholic Church is no longer persecuted in Cuba and hasn’t been for years.