In fact, Fidel Castro met with three Pope’s during his lifetime: St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, who played a key role in helping to broker the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
In 1996, Fidel Castro was received by St. John Paul II in the Vatican, signaling a strengthening in dialogue between the two countries. This encounter eventually paved the way for John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998, marking the first time a Pope ever set foot on the island.
Benedict XVI followed in his predecessors’ footsteps, traveling to Cuba in 2012 in a move that signaled a new opening on the part of Cuba to the world. Throughout the visit, Raul Castro was frequently at the Pope's side in a show of his desire to update Cuba, and give importance to the visit.
Pope Francis himself followed suit in 2015, shortly after the U.S. and Cuba announced that they would be taking formal steps to restore diplomatic ties.
On Dec. 17, 2014, the U.S. and Cuba announced a prisoner exchange as well as the desire to lift the U.S. embargo on travel and trade.
Although the Obama administration had made small changes to existing policy starting in 2009, including Cuban-Americans having a limited freedom to travel between the countries and send money to Cuba, in 2013 secret talks between diplomats began to open up relations, aided by the support of the Vatican.
Pope Francis made a personal phone call to both U.S. president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro to come to a deal, particularly regarding diplomacy and long-held prisoners.
Full diplomatic relations were then officially restored as of midnight July 20, 2015, and embassies were re-opened and flags raised later in the day as an outward sign of the diplomatic thaw.
When he stepped foot in Havana Sept.19, 2015, for a brief visit to Cuba ahead of his trip to the United States, Pope Francis told officials that the recent normalization of relations between the two countries was a sign of hope and victory.
“For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement,” he said.
Quoting Cuban hero and tireless fighter for the country’s independence, José Martí, Francis said the restoration of ties “is a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue, ‘the system of universal growth’ over ‘the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties.’”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
He urged political leaders continue down this path and to “develop all its potentialities” as a sign of the service they are called to on behalf of the “peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”
During his visit, Francis met briefly with Fidel Castro to talk about the problems of contemporary society and to exchange books.
Raul Castro had visited the Vatican May 10, 2015, just a few months before Pope Francis’ visit, to speak about the Pope’s trip as well as his role in restoring relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
After their meeting, Raul thanked Francis for his active role in helping restore ties between the two nations, and suggested that he return to the Church in the future. “I will start praying again and return to the Church” if the Pope continues what he has been doing, he said.
The president’s admiration and appreciation for Pope Francis was made even clearer when earlier this month, in response to an appeal made by the Pope for governments to grant clemency to prisoners, he released 787 prisoners in Cuba.
After celebrating Mass for prisoners in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 6, Pope Francis in his Angelus address asked that as part of the Jubilee of Mercy, competent global authorities would consider granting clemency to eligible inmates.