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Pope Francis inspires Cuba’s Raul Castro towards Church

Cuban President Raul Castro has said he was so impressed by a Vatican audience with Pope Francis that he might return to the faith he was born into.

Mr Castro praised the pontiff’s wisdom, adding: “I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein.”

He thanked the Pope for brokering a rapprochement between Cuba and the US.

The communist leader had stopped at the Vatican after attending Russia’s World War Two Victory Day in Moscow.

The Catholic Church has maintained ties with Havana since the 1959 revolution.

The Pope will visit Cuba on his way to the US in September.

 

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Analysis: Will Grant, BBC correspondent, Havana

That the leader of the Cuban Revolution would even joke about returning to the Catholic Church shows just how far the relationship between Havana and the Vatican have moved forward recently.

That has been particularly true under Pope Francis. First, the Pontiff played a crucial role in smoothing the path to negotiations between Cuba and the US over the past 18 months. Furthermore he has given his blessing to the process and to the Cuban government -by arranging to come to Cuba in September before his visit to the US.

As a Latin American himself, Pope Francis has always been able to maintain good ties with Latin American leaders from both the left and the right. He has repeatedly called for the US trade embargo on Cuba to be lifted, for example.

Now he has hosted, and seemingly wooed, Raul Castro in Rome strengthening the ties even further. Hardly surprising Mr Castro is considering returning to Mass!

But the state-run newspaper Granma omitted Mr Castro’s comments about returning to the Church when it reported the meeting on its website. A reflection, perhaps, of how surprising it is for Cubans to hear Mr Castro make such comments, whether tongue-in-cheek or not.

 

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Secret talks

For Pope Francis, the restoration of relations between the US and Cuba – agreed during secret talks at the Vatican – has been a major diplomatic achievement, says the BBC’s David Willey in Rome.

The US had imposed a trade embargo after Cuba’s revolution, which it began to lift late last year.

After the 50-minute private audience on Sunday, Mr Castro told reporters: “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools.”

After suggesting he might turn again to the Church, he added: “I mean what I say.”

Both Mr Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, were baptised as Roman Catholics, but most Church activities were suppressed after the revolution.

Francis will be the third Pope to travel to Cuba, following visits there by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

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