Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI is
"available" to meet Fidel Castro during his trip to Cuba this
month but will not hold talks with dissidents who occupied a
Catholic church this week, the Vatican said on Friday.
Benedict XVI will travel to Cuba from March 26-28, where
he will see President Raul Castro, and while a meeting with
his brother and former longtime leader Fidel has not been
scheduled, the Vatican has not ruled it out.
"It`s a possibility, it could happen. If Fidel Castro
wants to meet the Holy Father, he will be available," Vatican
spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
Rumours have been circulating for months over a possible
encounter, and sources close to Fidel Castro, who is in
failing health, have said the 85-year-old symbol of communist
revolution wants to meet the pontiff.
Lombardi said that Benedict XVI would not meet with a
group of dissident Cubans who peacefully occupied a church
this week demanding that the pope push Havana leaders for
political freedom during his visit.
"It`s not in the programme," he said.
The dissidents were escorted out of the church yesterday
after the city`s Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked them to leave,
describing their sit-in as "illegitimate and
Benedict`s visit will be the first by a pope since John
Paul II`s landmark 1998 trip, which led to a thaw in long
frozen church-state relations.