Pope Schedules Last-Minute Meeting with Fidel Castro

Article excerpt

Pope Benedict XVI's decision to meet with the former Cuban leader angered Castro critics because, they say, it gives the Cuban government legitimacy.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro is to meet with Pope Benedict XVI today after a mass in Havana's Revolution Square. The last- minute meeting marks the end of the pope's visit to the communist island that banned religion after the 1959 Revolution.

Fidel Castro wrote on a government website late last night that was happy to meet the pope, "as I did John Paul II, a man for whom contact with children and the humble raised feelings of affection."

The Vatican already stated the pope would be happy to meet with Fidel. Last night he met with President Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's younger brother, urging the leader to allow a bigger role for the Catholic Church in Cuba and asking him to make Good Friday a national holiday. Christmas was reinstated as a national holiday just ahead of Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998.

The pope made several humanitarian requests, according to the church, possibly including pleas for the release of American Alan Gross imprisoned in Cuba on charges of spying.

Fidel Castro remains excommunicated from the church for his treatment of priests and nuns, who were thrown off the island after the revolution, as well as the government's seizure of church property. On his flight to Latin America on Friday, the pope said that Marxism "as it was conceived, no longer corresponds to reality," and hinted at change, Reuters reports. …