Pope Benedict meets President Raul Castro in Havana

HAVANA. March 28. KAZINFORM. Pope Benedict has met Cuban President Raul Castro on the second day of his visit to the communist-run island.

There have been suggestions that he could also meet Raul's brother, former President Fidel Castro.

After arriving in Havana, the pope prayed before a statue of the country's patron saint, and told a crowd he prayed for a Cuba "advancing along the ways of renewal and hope".

Cuban officials have insisted that political reform is not on the agenda.

Marino Murillo, one of Castro's vice-presidents and the "economics czar" in charge of liberalisation, told journalists the government was updating the Cuban economic model to make socialism sustainable.

"There will be no political reform in Cuba," he said.

The pope's visit marks the 400th anniversary of the discovery of a statue of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre - also known as the Mambisa Virgin - which was found floating in a bay by fishermen. It was revered by Cuba's independence heroes.

Pope Benedict XVI knelt for several minutes before the wooden statue, where he said he had prayed for those who "suffer" and are "deprived of freedom".

"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.

Later, Pope Benedict held an hour-long closed-door meeting with the leader of the communist country.

No details were released, but brief video feeds showed Raul Castro greeting the pope at the Palace of the Revolution, and later seeing him off.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford says change and openness are emerging as the themes of the Papal visit to the one-party state, where Roman Catholics now account for 10% of the population.


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