Pope Francis received President Raúl Castro of Cuba in audience on May 10, four months before the Pontiff’s apostolic journey to the Caribbean nation and the United States.
Castro, 83, met with the 78-year-old Pontiff for 50 minutes inside the Paul VI Audience Hall in what the Holy See Press Office described as a “very cordial” meeting. Afterwards, the Pope spoke with a dozen other Cuban officials, including the nation’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
The Cuban leader, who thanked the Pope for his role in improving Cuban-US relations, gave Pope Francis a medal portraying Havana’s cathedral and artwork portraying the cross as made out of barges. The Pope, in turn, gave Castro a copy of his apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel and a medallion of St. Martin aiding the poor.
After the meeting, Castro praised the Pope for his “wisdom, modesty, and all his other qualities,” and said, “I read all the speeches of the Pope.” He went on: "If the Pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic Church—and I'm not saying this jokingly."
Cuba, a Communist-ruled nation of 11.3 million, is 60% Catholic. St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI also made apostolic journeys to the island. http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=24873