‘What does a pope do?’ Fidel Castro asks Benedict

‘What does a pope do?’ Fidel Castro asks Benedict

HAVANA - Reuters
‘What does a pope do’ Fidel Castro asks Benedict

Cuban leader Castro (L) tells the pontiff he was spending most of the time reading. AFP photo

Pope Benedict and Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, both octogenarians, joked about their age in a brief meeting March 28 and then Castro popped the question: so what do you do?

The two world figures chatted for about 30 minutes at the Vatican embassy in Havana on March 28, near the end of the pope’s three-day visit to Cuba, where he called for greater freedom and a bigger role for the Catholic Church in the communist-led nation.

Castro led a 1959 revolution and transformed the Caribbean island into a communist state, ruling it for 49 years before stepping down due to poor health in 2008. Under his rule, Cuba for years called itself an atheist state.

Castro, 85, was helped out by two assistants, who supported him as he walked slowly up the steps into the stately white building where Benedict, 84, spent Tuesday night and where Pope John Paul II stayed during his landmark 1998 visit.

 “What does a pope do?” Castro asked Benedict, who is just one year his junior. The pontiff told him of his ministry, his foreign trips and his service to the Church, saying he was happy to be in Cuba and with the welcome he received.

 Dressed in a dark Reebok track suit and wearing a scarf despite the searing heat outside, Castro told the pontiff he had watched his whole visit on television.Castro handed the reins of power to his younger brother, President Raul Castro, four years ago and he has since largely retired from government. He told the pontiff he was spending most of his time reading and reflecting on the state of the world.

Fidel Castro, pope, Benedict