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.

Fidel Castro, Jesuit-influenced Marxist revolutionary

(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 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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  1. Interesting. John Paul II “talked about human rights” in Cuba while the current pope refused to meet with dissidents outside the nunciature who were later arrested and the only “rights” he mentioned were those of the Church in Cuba.

  2. The rights of religions and religionists are the only rights that matter. Because, you know, gawd n’ everything.

  3. Not sure what this sanitized RNS article about Castro has to do with your message, Red.

    Meanwhile, “animosity from Agnostics & Atheists”, (to borrow your phrase), is a fact of life in America anyway. Voting for Hillary would not have made any difference on that issue.

    But it’s time for Christians to stop being intimidated by such tomfoolery. Atheism and Agnosticism are not only rationally unsupportable, they are flat-out mangy-hide PITIFUL, they are the most worthless time-wasting choices a person can bog themselves down with.

    So it’s time for Christians to rise up, agree with their own Bibles for a change, and take care of some BUSINESS around here!!

    (And getting rid of Hillary Clinton was an excellent start, heh!!)

  4. “Atheism and Agnosticism are not only rationally unsupportable…”

    That is funny.

    Specifically what business do you have to take care of?

  5. As with their pacts with Hitler and Mussolini, the survival and prosperity of the RC church was the #1 priority. Oh, besides hiding the child abuse.

  6. More millenials are going to become Nones regardless. But rest assured, religion is not going anywhere any time soon in America.

  7. Showing that Atheism and Agnosticism are rationally unsupportable. An excellent hobby and not too difficult. In fact, I keep wondering why a demonstrably thinker-type person like you decided to settle for Atheism. Why go for the bottom of the barrel when you clearly got more rational and intuitive power than that?

  8. Religion, the supernatural and romantic love are examples of irrationality. It’s part of our nature and has its uses. My rational side has led me to conclude that religion and its god(s) are man-made. And guess what? With the exception of your own religion, you will agree with me.

  9. It is ironic that Fidel posited that Karl Marx “could have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount,” since in his own case there is little evidence that he took it seriously himself.

  10. “Religion, the supernatural and romantic love are examples of irrationality”…?

    Sorry, but I have to ask you specifically. Why should ANY of those three categories (let alone all three at the same time), be *automatically* classified as an example of irrationality?

    Despite your sincerity, I honestly believe you’ve gone way past what you can rationally defend on this one.

  11. They are not based on reason or logic but involve emotion. Not based on evidence. Beginning 2500 years ago unknown authors write a scientifically and historically inaccurate book full of internal inconsistencies and purport it to be divinely inspired. You are taught that it is true and accept it as such. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence the hardcores cling to creationism, Noah’s flood, resurrection, hell, satan, walking on water and other things that, if something similar were presented today as real, would get you laughed at or committed. You label other religions, equally silly, as false or pagan but yours is OK while the other guy thinks the same thing about his religion. I’ve seen newly converted christians act similar to someone who has just fallen in love/infatuation.

  12. That’s what I like about some devout christians – the absolute certainty of their path and the unique ability to determine ahead of time who is going to hell.?

  13. There are some similarities between Marxism and 1st century Christianity. I remember in Acts that when the newly minted christianized jewish festival attendees stayed past Pentecost the apostles set up help by an anti-capitalist system whereby each one donated to a common fund what he could or if impoverished, take what he needed.

  14. Perhaps so, in theory, regarding similarities, but my point was that Fidel Castro fell far afield from meeting many if not most of the precepts delineated in Jesus’ most famous sermon.

  15. “I imagine he’ll be meeting a lot of Jesuits in his present location.”

    Don’t be dishonest or deceitful. No you didn’t mention hell by name but the implication is pretty clear. A stereotype that atheists are gloomy – I did use a happy face. Glad to have brought some joy to your holiday season.

  16. On the contrary. At the age of 13 I started with my family as Jehovah’s Witnesses and being a good student I researched myself right into atheism. Here is my reference regarding Acts:

    Acts 2:
    44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

    Gotta watch stereotyping. Many atheists I know come from religious backgrounds and many christians I have discussions with aren’t too bible literate.

  17. Hmm. Your post could be rationally defeated on several points (including the historical accuracy of the Bible), but let’s look at that last general category (“romantic love”), since that one is not often discussed in this forum.

    Two reasonably nice people (a man and a woman, unfortunately these days you gotta spell THAT out!), who believe (or at least declare) that they share a few mutual interests or preferences, decide to initiate a friendship. If generally positive and not stressful, that relationship is followed by an agreed-upon series of social dates, possibly leading to romantic love, and some vetting by family or friends to help confirm (or deny) the couple’s compatibility for further stuff like marriage.

    So you tell me, exactly what is “irrational” about that specific process?

  18. I’m referring to that first spark, head over heels attraction/infatuation that sometimes causes people to do rash, impulsive things. When all you can think about is that person and you bore your friends by constantly talking about her, like she’s the best thing since sliced bread. I have seen that same behavior in religious newbies. Some biologists postulate that similar parts of the brain are involved. I recently came across this in the book, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and I am exploring it further.

  19. Well said, Jim! I can give you only 1 Like, but your straightforward and unblinking confrontation of an epooper’s Freudian self-soiling earns 5 stars in my book.

  20. Badly educated and militants for the wrong causes. They are neo-marxist cultural warriors hell-bent on destroying Catholicism.

  21. A philosophy professor at my Jesuit Alma mater (University of Scranton) was educated with Mr. Castro. He attributed Castro’s ideology to head injuries suffered in a fall from a horse!

  22. Give the Catholic Church a little time, and they will beatify Fidel Castro, then raise him to sainthood. They struck a devil’s bargain with his regime in order to avoid persecution, and that kept them impotent in terms of being any kind of voice for freedom. That’s a far cry from Karol Wyjotolka, who became Pope John Paul, who was a clear and steady voice, speaking out against communism in Poland.

    Saying that Karl Marx would embrace the Sermon on the Mount is a farcical attempt to marry Marxism with Christianity. Had Marx ever encountered any of the teachings of Jesus Christ, he would have been overpowered by the Thruth, and his life would have changes.

    Fidel’s embrace of the Sermon on the Mount would have been accompanied by the stong arm of the state, to compel obedience to each of the admonitions. Jesus Christ stood alone on his own authority preaching on that hillside, with no civil government envorcing his words. He spoke of rendering unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar’s and unto God what belongs to God.

    During the Dark Ages the Roman Catholic Church was in bed with the despots who ran the government so that together they had control over the peasants, body and soul. When people began to see what this integrated institution of government was doing to them, little beams of light shined into the darkness, like the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. It all culminated with Martin Luther and the Reformation, when this enlightenment of the people couldn’t be kept away any longer!

  23. The late Fidel Castro was a difference-maker. Serving people through promotion of justice is a tough job. His critics and admirers spread across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia say, Fidel tried his best and in the given circumstances his efforts could bear some fruit. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let thy perpetual light shine upon your servant Fidel Castro.

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