On Sunday, May 10th, Pope Francis held an hour-long private audience at the Vatican with Raúl Castro, the President of Cuba.
Immediately afterwards President Castro gave the Pontiff two gifts. One was a painting of a large cross made with several boats and a child praying to the cross; the Cuban artist Alexis Leyva Machado said the painting was referring to the suffering of thousands of African people trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The other gift for the Pope was a medal commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Cathedral of Havana. In turn, the Holy Father gave Raúl a copy of his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” and a medal “St. Martin of Tours and the beggar covered with the mantle,” explaining that he gave it to world leaders because it recalls the obligation to help the poor and at the same time promote dignity.
At a subsequent press conference, Castro praised the Pope for helping Cuba and the United States to reach an agreement to restore diplomatic relations and resolve other issues and promised a warm welcome for Francis when he goes to Cuba in September. Castro also said he had been “very impressed by [Francis’] wisdom, his modesty, and all his virtues that we know he has.”
On a personal note, Castro said, “When the Pope comes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his Masses and I will be happy to do so.” He added that he reads all of the speeches of Francis, who has made defense of the poor a major plank of his papacy. Moreover, Castro said, “If the Pope continues to talk as he does, sooner or later I will start praying again and return to the Catholic Church, and I am not kidding.” (Both Mr. Castro and his brother Fidel Castro were baptized as Roman Catholics.)
Raúl was kidding, however, when he said, “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools.” Castro also observed that he was “from the Cuban Communist Party that used to not allow [religious] believers, but now [since 1991] we are allowing it. It’s an important step.”
 This post is based upon the following: Yardley, Raúl Castro Meets with Pope Francis at Vatican, N.Y. Times (May 10, 2015); Pullella, Raul Castro meets pope, says might return to the Church, Reuters (May 10, 2015); Scammell, Castro thanks Pope Francis for brokering thaw between Cuba and US, Guardian (May 10, 2015); Ordoz, Castro: “If the Pope continues, I’ll pray and return to the church,” El Pais (May 10, 2015) (Google translation); BBC, Raul Castro thanks Pope Francis for brokering Cuba-U.S. deal, (May 10, 2015); Francisco Raul and the Pope meet in historic meeting, Granma (May 10, 2015) (Google translation).
 The Cuban newspaper Granma previously cited report of this historic meeting and the subsequent press conference did not mention Castro’s comments about his plan to attend all the Pope’s masses in Cuba and perhaps to start praying and return to the Catholic Church.