.- Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the desire to strengthen the relationship between the Church and Cuba prompted Pope Benedict's 30-minute meeting with Fidel Castro.
“The Pope has to take into account the request of the authorities who are his guests and made the visit possible,” Fr. Lombardi told the press on March 28 during the final briefing before the Pope's departure to Rome.
“In this case, he accepted the request made by the Cuban authorities, who highlighted Fidel Castro’s strong desire to meet with the Holy Father” during the Pope's March 26-28 visit to the country.
The Vatican spokesman noted that “Fidel Castro also had an important meeting with John Paul II” during the late pontiff's 1998 trip to Cuba, which made a significantly improved relationship “between the Church and Cuba possible.”
Vatican and local leaders within the Church have been key in negotiating with release of prisoners of conscience after what's known as the “Black Spring” arrests of 75 dissidents in 2003.
Even “the steps, small or great” which were made in the field of human rights after the Pope John Paul II’s visit “were a consequence of that meeting,” Fr. Lombardi pointed out.
“With respect to a possible meeting with dissidents,” Fr. Lombardi said that “a number of the messages (from dissidents) made it to the Holy See before the trip and were quite diverse.”
The Pope, therefore, “has been conscious to have their concerns and those of the entire Cuban people present in his discourses.”
The March 28 meeting occurred after Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in the Revolution Plaza of Havana, which was attended by Raúl Castro, civil authorities, Cuban bishops and other bishops from Latin America.
After the dialogue, Castro and his companions – among whom was his oldest son who helped him stand up – said farewell to the Pope who was accompanied by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Apostolic Nuncio of Cuba, Msgr. Bruno Musaró.
The Pope also met with current of Cuba President, Raúl Castro, yesterday whom he asked to declare Good Friday a national holiday. At the meeting, the Pope also interceded for Cuban dissidents.