Castro to Visit Vatican as Pope Plans Cuba Tour
Phil Davison Latin America Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
Pope John Paul is likely to welcome the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, to the Vatican for the first time next month, and may soon visit the Communist Caribbean island, one of the few Latin American countries he has not seen.
Diplomatic sources in Havana said "considerable progress" towards the two visits had been made during talks in the Cuban capital at the weekend between Cuban officials and the Vatican's "Foreign Minister", the French Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran.
The Archbishop arrived on Friday with the general aim of strengthening relations with President Castro's long-time Communist and atheist regime but with finalising the two visits his priority, the sources said. Castro, who purged the Catholic Church in the early years after his 1959 revolution but has gradually eased the restrictions, is expected to meet the Pope in mid-November while in Rome for a meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The pontiff, who took part in a religious service in St Peter's Basilica yesterday, for the first time since his appendix was removed earlier this month, is likely to visit the island next year, the sources said. "It's going well," Archbishop Tauran told reporters after separate weekend meetings with the Cuban Foreign Minister, Roberto Robaina, and the speaker of Castro's rubber-stamp parliament, Ricardo Alarcon. Both men are key aides to the Cuban leader and among those tipped to succeed him if he ever stands aside. "Now, we have to resume the custom of meeting with greater frequency," the Vatican envoy said. The Pope, who participated only in the first 70 minutes of yesterday's three-hour service and later delivered his regular blessing in a firm voice to thousands in St. …