The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, has confirmed that Pope Francis will receive in private audience the President of the Republic of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz. The meeting is scheduled to take place during the morning of Sunday, May 10th, in the papal studio of the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. President Castro recently publicly thanked the Pope for the role he played in bringing Cuba and the USA closer together. Pope Francis will travel to Cuba in September before heading to the United States as part of his pastoral journey.
Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, returned to Rome this week after a visit to Cuba in April where he met with President Castro.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, he said, “We had a long conversation; the memory of past events is clearly still fresh; but there is also a clear sense that there is a need to look ahead precisely in order to change difficult situations and find a way out of current problems, particularly economic ones. The resident said Cuba is looking into reforms, mainly in the economic field but also in relation to the presence and activities of the church.
"There are many things we are alert to," said the cardinal. "I myself mentioned some important issues to the president, with regard to which bishops expect answers in the context of the Pope’s visit but also in the near future. There is the issue regarding the repair and building of new churches; there is the issue of unrest and the difficulties many priests face when moving around the country."
Another issue, the cardinal told Vatican Radio, “is the need for the church to have more access to mass media: progress has already been made in this area and I would say this is a sign that the Church is being given more freedom. But I think the pope’s visit will also bring some positive and much hoped for changes to mass media. Bishops wish to be able to work in this field so they can communicate with faithful. Then there is the issue of the Internet, which is very current. Right now, the Cuban Church is eager for change with regard to the Internet and digital communication, not only television and radio.”
As far as the anticipation of Cubans ahead of the Pope’s visit, the cardinal has no doubts: “I really believe that the Pope’s visit is going to be a big window, it will offer a great deal of space for growth with the evangelical and missionary dimension. People are very excited!"