Havana: Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro on Monday at the Cuban revolutionary leader's home in Havana after an outdoor mass attended by hundreds of thousands of people on the city's iconic Revolution Square.
In what is sure to become an emblematic moment of Francis's tour of Cuba and the United States -- the Cold War enemies whose reconciliation he helped to bring about -- the pope chatted with the 89-year-old Castro and his family for about 30 or 40 minutes, said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
Lombardi said the conversation touched on various topics, including the environment, and was "very informal and friendly."
Francis gave the former Cuban leader four books, including two on theology.
Castro reciprocated with a dedicated copy of Brazilian priest Frei Betto's book of interviews with him, "Fidel and Religion," which he signed: "With admiration and respect from the Cuban people."
After decades of hostility between Castro's communist regime and the Catholic Church, relations began to slowly improve in the 1980s, culminating in a historic visit to Cuba by pope John Paul II in 1998.
Francis was also due to meet later with Castro's brother, President Raul Castro, who took power when Fidel stepped down amid a health crisis in 2006.
Before meeting the Castros, the pope gave a homily calling on Cubans to serve the downtrodden and warning them that "service is never ideological."
His message at the mass did not directly address Cuba's political situation or Havana's nascent rapprochement with the United States.
But he warned against both ideology and an every-man-for-himself mentality, at a time when Cuba faces a delicate period of economic and political transition.
"Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable," he told the crowd, speaking beneath a towering sculpture of his fellow Argentine Che Guevara's iconic silhouette.
"We need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a 'service' which is 'self-serving,'" he said.
"Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people."