Having visited the shrine of "Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre", Pope Benedict flew from Santiago de Cuba to the nation's capital city Havana.

Greeted at the airport by Raul Castro, president of Cuba, who had not been scheduled to be present, the Pope was also greeted by Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of San Cristobal de La Habana, as well as hundreds of children holding white and yellow flowers.

Benedict XVI travelled by car to the Palacio de la Revolucion where he paid a courtesy visit to President Raul Castro. Since 1965 the building complex known as Palacio de la Revolucion has been home to the Council of State, the Office of the President, the Council of Ministers and the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. described the meeting between the two men on March 26 as "long, cordial and serene". Their discussions, he said, had focused on the condition of the Cuban people, including humanitarian issues and the Church’s expectations in her service of the common good. The Pope also made a specific request for Good Friday to be re-established as a national holiday.

At the end of their meeting the Pope and President Castro exchanged gifts. Benedict XVI gave the Cuban leader a facsimile of Ptolemy's "Geography", and President Castro gave him a bronze reproduction of "Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre". The Pope then returned to the apostolic nunciature where he dined with Cuban bishops.



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