Pope in Cuba: Young people, hope is a path of solidarity. Meeting with Fidel Castro
Pope Francis encourages young people at Felix Varela Cultural Center to overcome "radical pessimism" and the " by false promises of happiness, by immediate and selfish pleasures, by a life of mediocrity and self-centeredness" opening up to solidarity with all. The visit (private) to the lider maximo, marked by illness and nearing life’s end.

Havana (AsiaNews) - Giving new hope to a society stifled by decades of ideology and pushing young and old, the people and leaders along a common path. This is how we could synthesize the meaning of Pope Francis’ message to the youth he met yesterday evening (last night in Italy) at the Felix Varela Center in the Cuban capital.

Previously the Pope had visited the elderly and sick lider maximo Fidel Castro. The meeting was strictly private, in the presence of Fidel and his close family. Just one of the sons of the former leader, Alex, released a photo of the greeting between the pope and his father.

Francis gave Fidel a few CDs with the homilies of the Jesuit priest who was spiritual director of the young Fidel, along with some books of the theologian Alexander Pronzato.

The lider maximo, marked by illness and emaciated, gave the pontiff a copy of his book "Fidel and Religion", a series of interviews compiled by Frei Betto, a Brazilian Dominican and follower of the Marxist liberation theology.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, called the encounter, which lasted over 30 minutes, "very informal and friendly".

The visit to the leader, who is nearing the end of his life, was in stark comparison to the Holy Father’s meeting with youth of the Felix Varela Center, a cultural center linked to the archdiocese of Havana whic, despite a thousand difficulties and controls, offers educational programs in theology, the arts, cinema, reflection, social commitment.

The meeting was dedicated entirely to instilling hope in young people, often marked by "a radical pessimism", caused by the slowness with which things change in Cuba, or diverted to " by false promises of happiness, by immediate and selfish pleasures, by a life of mediocrity and self-centeredness, which only fills the heart with sadness and bitterness".

For the Pope, "hope is a path ... [that] has an end, a goal." It is nourished by the "memory of who we are" and rejects "partial and ideological interpretations are useless; they only disfigure reality by trying to fit it into our preconceived schemas, and they always cause disappointment and despair.."

Francis urged the young people to walk together: "Isolation and aloofness never generate hope; but closeness to others and encounter do. Left to ourselves, we will go nowhere. Nor by exclusion will we be able to build a future for anyone, even ourselves. A path of hope calls for a culture of encounter, dialogue, which can overcome conflict and sterile confrontation. To create that culture, it is vital to see different ways of thinking not in terms of risk, but of richness and growth. The world needs this culture of encounter. It needs young people who seek to know and love one another, to journey together in building a country like that which José Martí dreamed of: “With all, and for the good of all”.

" Without solidarity, no country has a future– he continued . " Simple tolerance is not enough; we have to go well beyond that, passing from a suspicious and defensive attitude to one of acceptance, cooperation, concrete service and effective assistance. Do not be afraid of solidarity, service and offering a helping hand, so that no one is excluded from the path".

"Dear young people of Cuba - he concluded - if God himself entered our history and became flesh in Jesus, if he shouldered our weakness and sin, then you need not be afraid of hope, or of the future, because God is on your side. He believes in you, and he hopes in you”.

In the afternoon, before his  meeting with young people, Pope Francis visited Raul Castro, as President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, gifting him an image of the Virgin of Cobre, patroness of Cuba, the work of Vatican mosaic artists.

Immediately afterwards he went to the Cathedral for the recitation of Vespers with priests, religious men and women.