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Pope meets with Cuba’s Castros but misses out on dissidents

Pope Francis flies to eastern Cuba on Monday for the next leg of his pilgrimage after having met with both Raul and Fidel Castro

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Pope Francis flies to eastern Cuba on Monday for the next leg of his pilgrimage after having met with both Raul and Fidel Castro but missing out on an encounter with Cuban dissidents.

The Vatican stressed that no official meeting had been planned with the dissidents. The Vatican embassy in Havana did make calls to some leaders “as a sign of attention to these people,” the Vatican spokesman said, but in the end the dissidents were prevented from reaching the cathedral where the greeting was planned.

The Vatican described the 40-minute session with Fidel Castro at the former president’s home as “informal and familial,” with an exchange of books and discussion about big issues facing humanity, including Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment and the global economic system.

Video of the encounter broadcast on Cuban state media showed the 89-year-old Castro chatting animatedly with Francis and shaking the pope’s hand, the pope standing in his white vestments and Castro sitting in a white button-down shirt and Adidas sweat top.

The meeting brought together the leader who shaped Cuba for the last half of the 20th century and Latin America’s first pope, who is credited by many Cubans with opening a path to the future by mediating the warming diplomatic relations between their country and the United States. After his Cuba visit, the pope flies to Washington for his first ever trip to the U.S

Francis also met for an hour with Fidel’s brother Raul, a declared atheist who, perhaps jokingly, has said he likes the pope so much he is thinking of returning to his Catholic roots.