2012-03-28 Vatican RadioPope Benedict XVI met with Cuban President Raul Castro, on Tuesday, in a private encounter that lasted for over 40 minutes. Papal spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, described as very cordial and constructive. Though we don’t know the details of their conversation, Fr Lombardi said the Pope reiterated concerns he has spoken about in public regarding the freedom of the Church to contribute more fully to the life and well being of all people here.
One specific request the Pope did make to the Cuban leader was to consider granting Good Friday as a national holiday in the island nation. Veteran Vatican watchers will recall that Pope John Paul II made a similar request to former President Fidel Castro fourteen years ago to make Christmas Day a national holiday here – something that was granted that very same year. That decision marked a significant step forward for the Church in a country that was officially an atheist state for over three decades.
Asked about Pope Benedict’s hopes for political changes in Cuba, Fr Lombardi stressed this is first and foremost a pastoral pilgrimage marking the 400th anniversary of Cuba’s most important Marian shrine, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. But he said the visit also aims to provide an impulse for practical improvements, working towards a greater freedom for the Church to carry out her mission. Listen to our report from Philippa Hitchen, who is travelling with the Holy Father: