GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Pope Benedict XVI will end a two-day Cuban visit on Wednesday 28 March with an open-air Mass in Revolution Square in Havana and an unscheduled meeting with former leader Fidel Castro, the Associated Press reports.
The plaza’s famous image of revolutionary leader Che Guevara now has a huge poster of the country’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, opposite it. The papal visit coincides with the 400th anniversary of her apparition as a statue.
The leader of the Catholic Church met for an hour on Tuesday with Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, the current head of state. The pope asked that Good Friday be made a national holiday. The Cuban regime agreed to reintroduce Christmas as a holiday, following the last papal visit, by John Paul II in 1998, after banning it for nearly 30 years.
Only ten percent of Cuba’s population is Catholic today and Benedict’s visit to Cuba is widely seen as an effort to improve relations between the Catholic Church and the secular socialist state and to renew the church.