• Fidel Castro, communist leader who met three Popes, dies at

    From Allen Prunty@1:2320/100 to E on Mon Nov 28 03:18:14 2016
    Fidel Castro, communist leader who met three Popes, dies at 90

    After hearing of the death of Fidel Castro, former president and leader communist revolution in Cuba, late Friday evening, Pope Francis sent a
    telegram offering his prayers for the deceased and the entire nation.

    Upon receiving the sad news of the passing of your dear brother, His
    Excellency Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, former president of the Council
    of the State and of the Government of the Republic of Cuba, I express my sentiments of sympathy, the Nov. 26 telegram, signed by Pope Francis

    Addressed to Fidels brother and the current president of Cuba, Raul
    Castro, the telegram expressed the Popes closeness to the members of the
    Castro family, the Cuban government and the entire people of this
    beloved nation.

    At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I entrust
    the entire Cuban people to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of
    Cobre, Patroness of this country, Francis said.

    In an unexpected televised statement the evening of Nov. 25 local time
    in Havana, Raul Castro announced that his brother had passed away
    earlier that evening at the age of 90.

    Fidel, who ruled the island nation as a one-party state for nearly 50
    years before passing the reigns to his brother in 2008 due to health
    reasons, died Friday night local time in Havana, having been the longest serving non-royal leader of the 20th century.

    According to his Raul Castros statement, Fidel will be cremated
    Saturday, and his death will be followed by several days of national
    mourning on the island. Raul ended his address shouting his brothers revolutionary slogan towards victory, always! BBC News reports.

    Born in the southeastern Oriente province of Cuba in 1926, Fidel Castro
    went on to lead a largescale rebellion in the country that eventually
    claimed victory, resulting in his election as Prime Minister and the
    adoption of Soviet-style communism throughout the island nation.

    After serving several years in prison for inciting an unsuccessful
    rebellion in 1953, Castro was released under amnesty in 1955, and in
    1956 began a guerilla war against the government that ultimately led to
    the ousting of former dictator Fulgencio Batista, and his election as
    PM, making him the youngest leader in Latin America at the time at age

    Castros nearly 50 year reign was marked by stormy moments such as the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 that severed ties between the
    U.S. and Cuba, and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly started
    a global nuclear war when Castro agreed that USSR forces could deploy
    nuclear weapons in Cuba.

    Despite the fact that the majority of the world eventually adopted Western-style democracy and other formerly communist regimes such as
    China and Vietnam had embraced capitalism, Castro held tight to his
    commitment to socialism.

    Accused of various human rights and religious freedom abuses, Castro was
    handed a crippling U.S. trade embargo following the Bay of Pigs
    invasion, and survived several assassination plots. He handed over power
    to his brother Raul in 2006 due to health reasons, and officially stood
    down as president in 2008.

    However, despite the tensions under Castros leadership, his regime
    always maintained open communication and dialogue with the Vatican,
    making it the only communist nation with which the Holy See never broke

    In fact, Fidel Castro met with three Popes during his lifetime: St. John
    Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, who played a key role in helping
    to broker the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.

    In 1996, Fidel Castro was received by St. John Paul II in the Vatican, signaling a strengthening in dialogue between the two countries. This
    encounter eventually paved the way for John Paul IIs historic visit to
    Cuba in 1998, marking the first time a Pope ever set foot on the island.

    Benedict XVI followed in his predecessors footsteps, traveling to Cuba
    in 2012 in a move that signaled a new opening on the part of Cuba to the
    world. Throughout the visit, Raul Castro was frequently at the Pope's
    side in a show of his desire to update Cuba, and give importance to the

    Pope Francis himself followed suit in 2015, shortly after the U.S. and
    Cuba announced that they would be taking formal steps to restore
    diplomatic ties.

    On Dec. 17, 2014, the U.S. and Cuba announced a prisoner exchange as
    well as the desire to lift the U.S. embargo on travel and trade.

    Although the Obama administration had made small changes to existing
    policy starting in 2009, including Cuban-Americans having a limited
    freedom to travel between the countries and send money to Cuba, in 2013
    secret talks between diplomats began to open up relations, aided by the
    support of the Vatican.

    Pope Francis made a personal phone call to both U.S. president Barack
    Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro to come to a deal, particularly
    regarding diplomacy and long-held prisoners.

    Full diplomatic relations were then officially restored as of midnight
    July 20, 2015, and embassies were re-opened and flags raised later in
    the day as an outward sign of the diplomatic thaw.

    When he stepped foot in Havana Sept.19, 2015, for a brief visit to Cuba
    ahead of his trip to the United States, Pope Francis told officials that
    the recent normalization of relations between the two countries was a
    sign of hope and victory.

    For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with
    hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following
    years of estrangement, he said.

    Quoting Cuban hero and tireless fighter for the countrys independence,
    Jos Mart, Francis said the restoration of ties is a sign of the victory
    of the culture of encounter and dialogue, the system of universal growth
    over the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties.

    He urged political leaders continue down this path and to develop all
    its potentialities as a sign of the service they are called to on behalf
    of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an
    example of reconciliation for the entire world.

    During his visit, Francis met briefly with Fidel Castro to talk about
    the problems of contemporary society and to exchange books.

    Raul Castro had visited the Vatican May 10, 2015, just a few months
    before Pope Francis visit, to speak about the Popes trip as well as his
    role in restoring relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

    After their meeting, Raul thanked Francis for his active role in helping restore ties between the two nations, and suggested that he return to
    the Church in the future. I will start praying again and return to the
    Church if the Pope continues what he has been doing, he said.

    The presidents admiration and appreciation for Pope Francis was made
    even clearer when earlier this month, in response to an appeal made by
    the Pope for governments to grant clemency to prisoners, he released 787 prisoners in Cuba.

    After celebrating Mass for prisoners in St. Peters Basilica Nov. 6, Pope Francis in his Angelus address asked that as part of the Jubilee of
    Mercy, competent global authorities would consider granting clemency to eligible inmates.

    Legally speaking, clemency is a power given to a public official, such
    as a mayor, governor or the president, to in some way modify or lower
    the harshness of a punishment or sentence imposed on a prisoner.

    In response, Castro pardoned 787 inmates including women, young and sick prisoners who had committed minor crimes, but nothing extremely
    dangerous such as murder or rape, a statement on the front page of
    Granma said.

    The statement noted clearly that the Council of State, led by President
    Raul Castro, issued the pardons in response to the call by Pope Francis
    to heads of state in the Holy Year of Mercy. In choosing the prisoners,
    the State took into account the crimes committed, the prisoners conduct
    and the time serves so far.

    This article was updated at 2p.m. local time in Rome to include the
    telegram from Pope Francis on the occasion of the death of Fidel Castro.

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