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Fidel Castro greets Pope Benedict in Cuba

Osservatore Romano via Getty Images

Cuban leader Fidel Castro greets Pope Benedict XVI on March 28 in Havana.

Paul Hanna / AFP - Getty Images file

Flashback: Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to Pope John Paul II in Havana on Jan. 22 1998. Pope John was the first and only pope to visit the communist controlled country until Pope Benedict's visit this week.

Pope Benedict met with Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro after saying mass in Havana on Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.

The meeting comes towards the close of the pope's three-day visit to the Communist-run island which was the first time since Pope John Paul II’s historic 1998 trip to Cuba.

Cuba's single-party, Communist government never outlawed religion, but it expelled priests and closed religious schools upon Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuba in 1959.

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In an unusual homily, the pontiff called for free thought, and more freedom for the Catholic Church in Cuba. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.