Pope welcomes Raul Castro at Vatican ahead of Cuba trip

The pope will visit Cuba in September, then stop in Washington, Philadelphia and New York

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.

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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