Cuban President Raul Castro said he was so impressed with Pope Francis he might return to the Catholic Church, The Associated Press reported at a meeting Sunday, May 10, of the two leaders.
Pope Francis had a role in helping normalize relations between Cuba and the United States, a fact Castro said he appreciated. The pope plans to visit Cuba on his way to America in September.
After leaving the Vatican, Castro, the brother of Fidel, the revolutionary leader who brought the Communists to power in Cuba, praised the pope
At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Castro said he came out of the meeting with the pope “really impressed by his wisdom and his modesty,” Reuters reported.
“When the pope comes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his masses and I will be happy to do so,” he said, adding that he reads all of the speeches of Latin America’s first pope, who has made defense of the poor a major plank of his papacy.
“I told the prime minister if the pope continues to talk as he does, sooner or later I will start praying again and return to the Catholic Church, and I am not kidding,” he said.
Both of the Castro brothers were baptized as Catholics.
The pontiff “is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too,” AP reported Castro saying. “I always studied at Jesuit schools.”
Castro is the leader of a Communist country that has cracked down on dissidents in the past, drawing criticism from the Vatican.
“I am from the Cuban Communist Party, that doesn’t allow [religious] believers, but now we are allowing it, it’s an important step,” Castro said.
“I am from the Cuban Communist Party, that doesn’t allow [religious] believers, but now we are allowing it, it’s an important step.”
—Raul Castro, Cuban dictator
Atheism is a traditional plank of communism, which drew its inspiration and philosophy from Karl Marx, who called religion “the opium of the people.”
The normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S. has been a controversial move by the Barack Obama administration, with some lawmakers wondering what America will gain from the move. Others say a thaw in political and economic relations between the two nations is long overdue because the longstanding hostility between the nations hasn’t forced any changes in Cuban repression of dissidents.
And it remains to be seen if Castro will make good on his promise to allow religious freedom. If religious liberty is permitted, can other natural rights to life, liberty and property be far behind?