"A meeting with Fidel Castro is probable, even if it is not yet scheduled for a specific time in the program," Father Federico Lombardi said. He added that the former Cuban president’s hope to meet the pontiff was "expressed by his brother, President Raul Castro, to the pope when he came to the Vatican in the spring."
Pope Francis is set to travel to from Rome to Havana on Saturday, from where he will begin his nine day tour of Cuba and the United States. On Sunday, he will meet with Raul Castro, who took over his brother’s position as Cuban president in 2008.
Father Lombardi said the Pope will likely meet the former Cuban leader after his meeting with Raul Castro on Sunday.
"I think this shows that the Vatican wants to engage with Cuba rather than confront it," John Allen, a papal biographer, told the Telegraph. "Fidel is a symbol of the revolution. If the Cubans had asked for a meeting and the Vatican had said 'no,' that would have been a snub."
The meeting would not be the first of its kind, as Fidel Castro had previously met with Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, in 2012, and with Pope John Paul II in 1998.
Pope Francis has also been credited with playing a key role in the warming of relations between Cuba and the United States. The two countries ended fifty years of antagonistic cold war enmities in July, when they re-established diplomatic relations and the US reopened its embassy in Havana. This came after Pope Francis wrote letters to US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, urging a détente, and hosted secret talks at the Vatican.
Following his trip to Cuba, the pontiff will travel to the United States and say a prayer in English at Ground Zero in New York for the victims of those who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He is also scheduled to deliver an address to Congress, making him the first Pope to do so, and will meet with President Obama at the White House.
This will be Pope Francis’ first trip to Cuba and the US, and his tenth overseas trip since he succeeded Benedict XVI in February 2012.