Pope Francis and Fidel Castro, the man who transformed his country through decades of Communism, met today at the revolutionary leader's home shortly after the pope told tens of thousands of Cubans to focus their lives on service to others instead of ideology. Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi says during the conversation, Fidel wanted to reflect on big issues and questions facing the world and humanity. Francis' recent encyclical on the environment and the global economic system was discussed. Lombardi said that unlike the 2012 visit of Benedict XVI, when Fidel peppered him with questions, the meeting with Francis was more of a conversation.
During Mass at Havana's Revolution Plaza, Francis urged Cubans to care for one another out of a sense of service, not ideology, and to refrain from judging one another by "looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing." It wasn't immediately clear what Francis was referring to. But many Cubans complain about the rigidity of a system in which nearly every aspect of life is controlled by the government, from cultural institutions to block-level neighborhood watch committees. "This is a crucial moment, and the pope's support for us is very important," said a 57-year-old teacher in the crowd. "He made a call for unity, and that's what we want." Francis arrives in the US on Tuesday, and the Vatican is reportedly unhappy about the guest list for Wednesday's White House welcoming ceremony.