Raul Castro Says Private Meeting With Pope Francis Has Inspired Him to Return to Catholic Faith, Resume Praying

Pope Francis meets Cuban President Raul Castro during a private audience at the Vatican, May 10, 2015. Pope Francis, who helped broker a historic thaw between the United States and Cuba, held talks with Cuban President Raul Castro on Sunday ahead of the pontiff's trip to both countries in September. | (Photo: Reuters/Gregorio Borgia/pool)

Cuban President Raul Castro has suggested that a meeting with Pope Francis has inspired him to "resume praying" and return to the Roman Catholic faith.

"I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein," Castro said after a 50-minute private audience with Francis at the Vatican on Sunday.

Following the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, a great deal of Catholic activity was suppressed in the country, with the government viewing the Vatican as part of the world capitalist system it opposed.

Francis has played a crucial role in mending relationships over the past year, however, and assisted in historic negotiations between Cuba and the U.S. in 2014 that renewed diplomatic ties and lifted a trade embargo between the two countries for the first time in decades.

Several publications, such as BBC News, have pointed out it is difficult to know for sure to what extent Castro's comments are to be taken seriously, but the former Cuban leader has insisted he is not joking.

"The fact that the man who helped lead the Cuban Revolution would even joke about returning to the Catholic Church shows just how far the relationship between Havana and the Vatican has moved forward recently," offered BBC correspondent Will Grant from Havana.

When asked by reporters to clarify his comments about joining the Catholic Church, Castro said: "I mean what I say."

He added: "The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools."

Castro said that he has been following Francis' ministry closely and reading his speeches.

"As I've already told my council of advisers, I read all of the Pope's speeches," he added, according to CNN. "I promise that I will go to all of his Masses — and with satisfaction. I left the meeting this morning impressed, very impressed by his knowledge, his wisdom, modesty, and by all the virtues that we know he has."

Francis is due to visit Cuba in September, and will become the third pope to do so following the visits of John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

The Roman Catholic Church leader has criticized the world's economic system on several occasions throughout his ministry, but has insisted his comments are not political in nature.

"Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth," Francis said in an interview back in January about the Vatican report titled "This Economy Kills."

"Is it pauperism? No, it is the Gospel," he added.

"Jesus tells us that it is the 'protocol' on the basis of which we will be judged, it is what we read in Chapter 25 of Matthew: I had hunger, I had thirst, I was in prison, I was sick, I was naked and you helped me: dressed me, visited me, you took care of me," Francis argued.

"This attention to the poor is in the Gospel, and in the tradition of the church, it is not an invention of Communism and [we] need not ideologize it, like sometimes happened in the course of history."

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