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Pope's first day in Cuba: Castros, warnings, and some humor

Two days before he visits the United States, the pope swung by Cuba and had an historic meeting with Fidel Castro

On his first full day in Havana, Pope Francis took time from his packed schedule to visit Cuba's retired leader Fidel Castro at his home. According to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, the encounter was "familial and informal."

The pope gave Castro five books on religion and spiritual life, and two CDs containing the homilies of Father Armando Llorente, a Jesuit priest who had taught Castro when he was a youth. Francis also gave him a copy of his two encyclicals.

Pope Francis arrives in Havana, Cuba

In turn, Fidel gave the pope an interview book entitled, "Fidel and Religion," written in 1985 by Freitas Betto. Lombardi said that Castro wrote in dedication, "For Pope Francis, on occasion of his visit to Cuba, with the admiration and respect of the Cuban people."

Lombardi said the conversation between the pope and the 89-year leftist leadercentered on protection of the environment, and "the great problems of the contemporary world." Castro's wife, children and grandchildren were present at the encounter.

Earlier in the day, the Pope held mass at Havana's Revolution Square near a massive image of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara. He spoke about reconciliation between Cubans, and the dangers of ideology.

"Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people," he said.

He warned Cubans about succumbing to "seductive" plans for the future, an allusion to what may lie ahead for Cuba as the nation becomes less politically and financially isolated. "Do not neglect (your brothers and sisters) for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person behind you," he said.

In what could be seen as an oblique criticism of the regime, the pope said the disciples argued amongst themselves about "who would have the highest places, who would be chosen for privileges, who would be above the common law...who would climb the ladder most quickly to take the jobs which carry certain benefits." But Jesus upset their mindset by telling them that "life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbor," the pontiff argued.

President Raul Castro was seated in the front row, and other high-ranking Cuban officials were in attendance.

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After the mass, Pope Francis issued an appeal for peace in Colombia, where an armed conflict between the government and a rebel group has dragged on for over 50 years.

"Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation," he said.

Later in the day, Francis held a meeting with Fidel's brother Raul Castro, the current Cuban president. He then attended a Vespers service at San Cristobal Cathedral, where he ditched his prepared speech and spoke spontaneously to the gathered priests, nuns and religious officials about the importance of poverty to consecrated life.

"Poverty is the wall and the mother of consecrated life," he said. "Richness impoverishes you, it makes you poor in the only richness that matters, the spirit of poverty."

He also managed to make a few jokes. "May God spare us crying nuns!" he said. Francis then gave thanks to all the nuns and priests who serve the neediest.

His last stop on Sunday was to be a meeting with youth, a customary appointment on Francis' foreign trips.