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Pope welcomes Raul Castro at Vatican ahead of Cuba trip

Pope welcomes Raul Castro at Vatican ahead of Cuba trip
Pope Francis speaks with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Vatican. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP/Getty Images)

Cuban President Raul Castro has been welcomed at the Vatican by

Pope Francis

, who played a key role in the breakthrough between Washington and Havana aimed at restoring U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties.

The Vatican characterized Francis' meeting Sunday with Castro as strictly private. In keeping with Francis' informal style, the two met in a studio near the Vatican public audience hall, instead of in the more imposing library in the Apostolic Palace, where heads of state traditionally are received.

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The pope will stop in Cuba in September for a visit, part of a pilgrimage that will then take him to Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

Castro's brother, Fidel, the Cuban revolutionary leader who ruled for decades before Raul, met with

Pope John Paul II

at the Vatican in 1996.

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