Pope Finishes Up Latin American Tour
Benedict spoke to Cuban residents and government officials at a televised rally Wednesday in Havana.
The pope preached in an unusually political sermon on the island’s leadership and freedom for the Catholic Church, with President Raul Castro in the front row.
Benedict also urged an end to Cuba’s isolation, a reference to the 50-year U.S. economic embargo and the inability of 11 past American Presidents and the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro to forge peace.
“Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity,” Benedict said.
The comment built upon the famed call of his predecessor, John Paul II, who said in this 1998 visit that Cuba should, “open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”
Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro later lashed back at the Pope’s comments by grilling changes to the Catholic Church’s practices and Benedict’s role as a spiritual leader of the world’s Catholics, a Vatican spokesman said.
However, in an op-ed article released late Tuesday, Castro expressed optimism in meeting with Pope Benedict.
"I will happily greet His Excellency Pope Benedict XVI as I did [Pope] John Paul II, a man for whom contact with children and the humble generated feelings of affection," wrote Castro. "That is why I decided to ask for a few minutes of his very busy time when I heard from the mouth of our foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez that he would be agreeable."
The heated tension of Wednesday contrasted from the light conversation between Fidel and Pope Benedict on Tuesday. The two men had an animated dialogue, according to the Vatican. They joked about their age, and the Pope told Castro: "I'm old, but I still know how to do my job."