- (Photo: REUTERS/Adalberto Roque)
Pope Benedict XVI held a private meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro during his three-day tour to Cuba on Tuesday.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church and the president of the island nation held an hour-long meeting in the Cuban government's Palace of Revolution. Raul's brother Fidel was not on hand for the meeting.
Prior to the meeting the pope held a prayer service in the Eastern city of Santiago at a shrine to the Virgin of Charity, Cuba's patron saint. He prayed for freedom and a renewal of faith and hope in Cuba.
"I have entrusted to the mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans," the pope said.
"May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy, which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul," he added.
Before arriving in the Communist country Pope Benedict XVI was quoted as saying Cuba's single party political system "no longer corresponds with reality," but Cuban officials quickly responded to the comments suggesting that although the country is open to economic reforms, political reforms were not a possibility.
"In Cuba, there's not going to be political reform," senior economy official Mario Murillo told reporters. "In Cuba we are talking about updating the Cuban economic model to make or socialism sustainable."
Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba is the first papal visit to the country since Pope John Paul II made the first-ever papal visit to the island nation in 1998.
Pope John Paul II's visit was historic as it improved relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Fidel Castro's ruling Communist Party, which led to a more visible and open presence of the church on the island.
Benedict is in Cuba as part of a two-country Latin American tour. He has already visited crowds of worshipers in Mexico and his visit was highly praised by locals.