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Fidel Castro, Jesuit-influenced Marxist revolutionary

(RNS) “I believe Karl Marx could have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount,” Castro once said.

Pope Francis meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, on September 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alex Castro-Castro Family/Handout via Reuters 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CASTRO-FAITH, originally transmitted on November 28, 2016.

(RNS) Fidel Castro, the Marxist revolutionary who ruled the Western Hemisphere’s only Communist state, acknowledged later in life that he was deeply influenced by Catholic teaching and welcomed a succession of popes to Cuba.

Despite carrying out repressive measures against the church in the wake of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and then being excommunicated, Castro, who died Friday (Nov. 25), saw himself as leading a struggle with some of the same noble aims as those of Christianity — including humility and concern for the poor.

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“I believe Karl Marx could have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount,” he said in a long interview with a Brazilian priest published decades ago. But he added that the historic Catholic Church had been used “as a tool for domination, exploitation and oppression for centuries.”


RELATED: Christ, Karl Marx and Che: Fidel Castro offers the pope his religious views


The following is a timeline of key religious events in Castro’s life:

Aug. 13, 1926 – Fidel Castro is born into a moderately affluent family of sugar cane plantation owners and baptized as a Roman Catholic. His father, Angel Castro, was a self-made immigrant from Spain who had married his maid, Lina Ruz, with whom he had seven children.

Fidel Castro attends Catholic elementary school and graduates from Belen, a Mass-every-morning prep school in Havana run by Jesuit priests.

Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Castro-Cubadebate/Handout (CUBA - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana on March 28, 2012. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alex Castro-Cubadebate/Handout *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CASTRO-FAITH, originally transmitted on November 28, 2016.

Castro would say later that the faith offered at Belen was “very dogmatic” and describe himself as having been a restless student. Nonetheless, he said Jesuits “influenced me with their strict organization, their discipline and their values. … They influenced my sense of justice.”

1959 – Castro takes power by leading a Marxist revolution. He bans religious celebrations, closes down more than 400 Catholic schools, including Belen, seizes church properties, and jails and expels Catholic priests.

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1962 – The Vatican, which had excommunicated all Catholics involved with communist groups in its 1949 Decree Against Communism, adds Fidel Castro to the list of those ejected from the church.

1976 – A decade and a half after the revolution, Cuba adopts a constitution which declares the country to be an atheist state.

1991 – Castro has the constitution amended to redefine Cuba as a secular state. The Communist Party allows religious believers to become members.

1985 – Castro meets a delegation of visiting U.S. bishops and praises Christian values such as sacrifice, austerity and humility.

“I told them that if they organized a state in accord with Christian precepts, they’d create one similar to ours,” he would later tell the Brazilian Dominican friar Frei Betto.

1996 – Fidel Castro visits the Vatican. During a 35-minute meeting, the Cuban leader tells St. John Paul II: ”Your Holiness, I expect to see you soon in Cuba.”

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro (R) stops to read his watch during Pope John Paul II's arrival ceremony at Jose Marti Airport in this January 21, 1998 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Zoraida Diaz

Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, right, stops to read his watch during Pope John Paul II’s arrival ceremony at Jose Marti Airport in this January 21, 1998 file photo. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Zoraida Diaz *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CASTRO-FAITH, originally transmitted on November 28, 2016.

1998 – St. John Paul II visits Havana and meets Castro, who wore a dark suit instead of his standard military uniform. The pope talks about human rights and blasts the lack of basic freedoms in Cuba. Christmas is reinstated as a national holiday.

2012 – Pope Benedict XVI visits Havana and meets Fidel, who had relinquished power to his brother Raul, after celebrating Mass on Revolution Square. Benedict requests that Good Friday also be recognized as an official holiday.

2015 – Castro meets with Pope Francis, who is visiting Cuba on his way to the United States. The retired Cuban leader gives the pontiff a copy of “Fidel and Religion” — a 353-page book based on 23 hours of interviews between him and Betto.

Nov. 25, 2016 – Castro’s death is announced on state television by his brother Raul. Pope Francis calls the death “sad news.”

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