The pope has met with Cuba's ex-president for a "familial" discussion at Castro's residence. Francis also took the chance on his visit to the island to take a dig at communist ideology as well as worship of wealth.
Pope Francis met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Sunday after celebrating Mass for thousands of worshippers at Havana's famous Revolution Plaza. During the service, Francis called on the people of Cuba to serve each other and not an ideology, in a subtle slight to the island nation's communist system.
"Service is never ideological," he said, "for we do not serve ideas, we serve people."
Informal exchange with Castro
The pope then went to Castro's residence for a 40-minute meeting that the Vatican described as informal and familial, with a discussion on big issues facing today's world - such as climate change and the global economy - a far cry from the 2012 visit that saw Castro pepper Francis' predecessor Benedict XVI with probing questions.
A photograph by Fidel's son Alex Castro showed the 89-year-old former president shaking hands with Pope Francis, with the two looking into each other's eyes as the ailing Castro appeared to hold onto another unidentified man for support.
The two men also exchanged gifts, with Castro giving the pontiff a huge crucifix made of oars by the Cuban artist Kcho, and a painting of the country's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre.
The pope raised a few eyebrows by gifting Castro, among other things, a collection of sermons by the late Reverend Amando Llorente, a Jesuit who once taught Castro while the former president was at high school but then fled the island when Castro's 1959 revolution expelled foreign clerics.
Warning about wealth
Following the meeting with Castro, Francis presided over a vespers service at the Immaculate Conception and San Cristobal cathedral. Speaking off the cuff for the first time on his visit, the bishop of Rome remarked on the importance of poverty to the Catholic Church, and warned of the dangers of falling victim to the temptations of wealth.
"Wealth makes us poor," he said, saying it makes one forget "the smallest, the most abandoned, the sickest" among us.
Francis arrived in Cuba on Saturday to begin a nine-day tour of the Caribbean island nation and the United States.
es/cmk (AP, Reuters)