The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI will be available should Fidel Castro ask to meet with the pontiff when he visits Cuba later this month.
Castro hosted Pope John Paul II during his historic visit in 1998, but the 85-year-old former Cuban leader has made only rare public appearances in recent months. He was last seen in photographs released by Cuban state media March 2 with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who was recovering from tumor surgery in Cuba.
Asked about a possible Fidel Castro-pope meeting at a media briefing Friday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that if Castro "wants to, the pope will be available." Benedict arrives in Cuba from Mexico on March 26.
During the briefing, Lombardi, asked about the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, said the Vatican's "often-repeated position" is contrary to the measure.
"The Holy See does not hold it to be a positive or useful measure. It is something that causes the population to suffer, and therefore does not attain its purpose," he said.