Pope to end Cuba trip with mass, Fidel Castro meeting
Pope Benedict will step onto Cuba's biggest stage today with a public mass in Havana's Revolution Square as he wraps up a trip that began with a blast at communism and will end with a visit with Fidel Castro.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billon Catholics will speak to several hundred thousand people, perhaps more, in the sprawling plaza that Castro, 85, used to fill with big crowds and fiery revolutionary rhetoric in hours-long speeches.
Ten-story high images of Castro's revolutionary sidekicks Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos dominate the treeless expanse of pavement from adjacent office buildings.
Fidel Castro reinstated Christmas as a holiday ahead of the landmark visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998 that helped improve long-strained Church-state relations.
The Cuban retired leader said yesterday in one of his columns, or "Reflections," published on the Internet that he would meet briefly with the German pope before he returns to Rome.
"With pleasure, I will greet His Excellency Pope Benedict XVI as I did with John Paul II," wrote Castro, who is now mostly retired but still occasionally writes columns and meets with visiting leaders.
He said he decided to request "a few minutes of his very occupied time when I learned from the mouth of our Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that modest and simple contact would please (the Pope)," Castro said.