Pope Francis and former Cuban President Fidel Castro hold hands at Castro's residence in Havana Sept. 20.

CNS PHOTO | ALEX CASTRO, AIN HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Pope Francis and former Cuban President Fidel Castro hold hands at Castro's residence in Havana Sept. 20.

September 28, 2015
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

HAVANA - Although it was not part of his formal program, Pope Francis took time after Sunday Mass to visit Cuba's ailing 89-year-old former leader, Fidel Castro.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said after the Mass Sept. 20 in Havana's Revolution Square, Pope Francis was driven to the residence for the informal meeting, which lasted 30-40 minutes.

Pope Francis, he said, picked up on the conversation Pope Benedict XVI had with Castro in 2012.

At that time, Lombardi had said Castro had asked about how the Church is handling the ethical challenges posed by scientific and technological developments and the relationship between faith and reason.

Castro also wanted to discuss the pope's concerns about a growing number of people who don't believe in God or act as if God does not exist.

Pope Francis arrived at the meeting at Castro's home ready to continue the discussion and fulfill Castro's desire to read more.

Lombardi said the pope gave Castro two books by the Italian catechist, Father Alessandro Pronzato. One is about the importance of humour and happiness in the spiritual life and the other on the Gospel and social issues.

As well, Pope Francis also brought the former Cuban leader copies of his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and Laudato Si', his encyclical on the environment.