Fidel Castro meets with Pope Francis

Pope Francis meets with Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro as the Caribbean nation and the United States enter a new era of closer ties.

HAVANA, CUBA (SEPTEMBER 20, 2015) (CUBAN GOVERNMENT)- Pope Francis met Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Sunday (September 20), hours after warning Cubans to beware the dangers of ideology and the lure of selfishness as their country enters a new era of closer ties with the United States.

The Cuban government released a photo of the historic meeting between Castro and Latin America’s first pope shortly after the meeting took place.

The pope and Castro, the region’s last surviving leftist icon of the 20th century, discussed religion and world affairs at the home of the 89-year-old retired president for about 40 minutes.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the meeting, which included Castro’s wife and other family members, was “very relaxed, fraternal and friendly.”

Francis gave Castro several of his official papal writings, two books on spirituality and a book and CD on the writings of Father Armando Llorente, a priest who taught Castro in Jesuit prep school more than 70 years ago.

Castro gave him a copy of “Fidel and Religion,” a 1985 book of interviews with a Brazilian priest which lifted a taboo on speaking about religion in Cuba, then officially atheist.

Francis met Castro, who built a one-party state that improved health and education services for Cubans but also limits democratic freedoms and represses dissent, after celebrating Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square.

There, he spoke beneath massive portraits of revolutionary leaders Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos built into the facades of state buildings.

To welcome the pope, who helped bring about the recent rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, a similarly giant poster of Jesus Christ was hung nearby.

Francis delivered a mostly religious homily to the tens of thousands present, but sprinkled it with criticism of “elitism” and ideology.

Arriving on Saturday (September 19), Francis exhorted Cuba and the United States to deepen their detente, and encouraged Cuba to grant more freedom to the Roman Catholic Church, which has re-emerged as a powerful force after suffering decades of repression.

Many Cubans appreciate the pope for his role in the secret talks that led to last December’s breakthrough with Washington, when Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to normalise relations and end a half century of animosity.

Francis will fly from Cuba to Washington on Tuesday (September 22). He will meet with Obama and address both the U.S. Congress and United Nations.