Pope Benedict XVI is "available" to meet Fidel Castro during his trip to Cuba this month but will not hold talks with dissidents who occupied a Catholic church this week, the Vatican said Friday.
Benedict XVI will travel to Cuba from March 26-28, where he will see President Raul Castro, and while a meeting with his brother and former longtime leader Fidel has not been scheduled, the Vatican has not ruled it out.
"It's a possibility, it could happen. If Fidel Castro wants to meet the Holy Father, he will be available," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
Rumours have been circulating for months over a possible encounter, and sources close to Fidel Castro, who is in failing health, have said the 85-year-old symbol of communist revolution wants to meet the pontiff.
Lombardi said that Benedict XVI would not meet with a group of dissident Cubans who peacefully occupied a church this week demanding that the pope push Havana leaders for political freedom during his visit.
"It's not in the programme," he said.
The dissidents were escorted out of the church on Thursday after the city's Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked them to leave, describing the ed their sit-in as "illegitimate and irresponsible."
Benedict's visit will be the first by a pope since John Paul II's landmark 1998 trip, which led to a thaw in long frozen church-state relations.