Pope meets Fidel Castro after warning against ideology - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Pope meets Fidel Castro after warning against ideology

Posted: Updated:
Pope Francis and Cuba's Fidel Castro shake hands, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro's residence as informal and familial, with an exchange of books. (AP Photo/Alex Castro) Pope Francis and Cuba's Fidel Castro shake hands, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro's residence as informal and familial, with an exchange of books. (AP Photo/Alex Castro)
A priest places a skullcap on Pope Francis during Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday Sept. 20, 2015. Pope Francis opens his first full day in Cuba on Sunday with what normally would be the culminating highlight of a papal visit: Mass before A priest places a skullcap on Pope Francis during Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday Sept. 20, 2015. Pope Francis opens his first full day in Cuba on Sunday with what normally would be the culminating highlight of a papal visit: Mass before
People gather in Revolution Square as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara and a Cuban flag decorate government buildings. Pope Francis opens his first full day People gather in Revolution Square as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara and a Cuban flag decorate government buildings. Pope Francis opens his first full day
Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara decorates a nearby government building. Pope Francis opens his Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara decorates a nearby government building. Pope Francis opens his

HAVANA (AP) — Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro on Sunday after urging thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology, delivering a subtle jab at the communist system during a Mass celebrated under the gaze of an image of Che Guevara in Havana's iconic Revolution Plaza.

The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro's residence 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.

Unlike the 2012 visit of Benedict XVI, when Castro peppered the German theologian with questions, themeeting with Francis was more of a conversation, papal spokesman the Rev. Frederico Lombardi said.

A photo provided by Alex Castro, Fidel's son and official photographer, showed the 89-year-old former president and Francis looking into each other's eye as they shook hands, the pope in his white vestments andCastro in a white button-down shirt and Adidas sweat top. Castro appeared to be gripping another, unidentified man for support.

The meeting brought together the leader who shaped Cuba for the last half of the 20th century and Latin America's first pope, who many Cubans credit 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 United States.

Since the pope's historic mediation, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro have reopened embassies in each other's countries, held a personal meeting, had at least two phone calls and launched a process aimed at normalizing ties in fields ranging from trade to tourism to telecommunications.

Francis called on Castro after celebrating Mass in Havana's main plaza on his first full day in Cuba. Believers and non-believers alike streamed into the square before dawn, and they erupted in cheers when the popespun through the crowd in his open-sided popemobile. Francis didn't disappoint, winding his way slowly through the masses and stopping to kiss children held up to him.

At one point, Francis was approached by a man who grabbed onto the popemobile and appeared to be speaking emotionally to the pontiff, who touched him on his hand and head before he was pulled away by security agents. Later video showed what appeared to be the same man throwing leaflets in the air, and backers of a Cuban dissident group said on Twitter he was a member of the political opposition.

While most Cubans are nominally Catholic, fewer than 10 percent practice their faith and Cuba is the least Catholic country in Latin America. The crowd was not as big as when St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit the island in 1998, but it drew people who seemed to genuinely want to be there and listen to Francis' message.

"This is very important for us," said Mauren Gomez, 40, who traveled some 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Villa Clara to Havana by bus, spending her time reciting the Rosary.

In his homily delivered under the gaze of a metal portrait of revolutionary fighter Che Guevara, Francis urged Cubans to care for one another out of a sense of service, not ideology. He encouraged them to refrain from judging each other by "looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing."

"Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others," he said. "Service is neverideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people."

Many Cubans complain about the rigidity of Cuba's system in which nearly every aspect of life is controlled by the government, from cultural institutions to block-level neighborhood watch committees. While the system has softened in recent years, Cubans can be excluded or lose benefits if they are perceived as being disloyal or unfaithful to the principles of the revolution.

Cubans are also increasingly concerned about growing inequality on the communist island, in which those with access to foreign capital live lives of relative luxury while others can barely feed themselves, generating jealousy and division within families and society at large.

"Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it," Francis told the crowd. "That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable."

Maria Regla González, a 57-year-old teacher, said she appreciated Francis' message of reconciliation and unity for all Cubans, and said Francis was particularly able to convey it given he is Latin American and speaks their language.

"This is a crucial moment, and the pope's support for us is very important," she said. "He made a call for unity, and that's what we want."

Francis brought Fidel three books: Two by an Italian priest, Alessandro Pronzato, and a book of sermons byFidel's former teacher, the Rev. Amando Llorente. Llorente taught at Colegio de Belen, a Jesuit high school where Fidel was a student. Llorente, a Spaniard, was forced out of the country after Castro's revolution and died in Miami in 2010.

Francis also brought two compact discs with Llorente's voice, as well as copies of his papal encyclical "Praise Be" and previous document, "The Joy of the Gospel." Castro gave the pope a book of his musings on religion, written with the Brazilian cleric Frei Betto.

Austen Ivereigh, author of "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope," says he thinks the pope was using the Llorente books and recording to send a subtle message to Fidel, whose rule was marked by conflict with the Catholic Church and other groups.

"I can't help but think that it's Pope Francis inviting Fidel Castro to come to terms with his past," Ivereigh said. "There is clearly a lot of pain in this relationship," with Llorente.

Francis met afterward for an hour with Fidel's brother Raul, an atheist who has, perhaps jokingly, said he likes the pope so much he is thinking of returning to his Catholic roots. Francis thanked the 84-year-old leader for his pardon of thousands of petty criminals before his arrival. Castro presented the pontiff with a huge sculpture of the crucified Christ made of oars and a painting of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's patron saint.

The pontiff then spoke off the cuff about the virtues of poverty at an evening vespers service in the San Cristobal Cathedral before a meeting with Cuban young people.

In an important aside, Francis ended Sunday's Mass with an appeal for Colombia's government and rebels, who have been holding peace talks in Havana for over two years, to put an end to South America's longest-running armed conflict.

"Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation," he said.

___

Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana and Christine Armario and Andrea Rodriguez in Holguin, Cuba, contributed to this report.

___

Nicole Winfield on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nwinfield

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 Midwest Television, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.