Cuba's Fidel Castro will "gladly" meet Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday during the pontiff's visit to the Communist-run island, the revolutionary icon wrote in an online article.
"I will gladly meet His Excellency Pope Benedict XVI... as I did (Pope) John Paul II (in 1998)," the 85-year-old former president wrote in an article published on the official Cubadetabe website.
On Tuesday, the Benedict met with President Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, who assumed power in 2006 when Fidel stepped down after ruling the island nation for nearly five decades.
The 84-year-old pope -- leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics -- is seeking to bolster the Church's relationship with Cuban authorities and to encourage new and renewed faith in the mainly secular island nation.
But his calls to "build a renewed and open society" prompted Cuban vice president Marino Murillo to rule out any sweeping political reforms in the Americas' only one-party Communist state.
John Paul II's 1998 trip was the first papal visit to Cuba, and he is credited with starting a steady thaw in relations between local Catholic authorities and the Communist government.
Fidel Castro praised the charismatic Polish pontiff, in his article, saying John Paul II's "contact with children and humble people invariably aroused feelings of affection."
He added that he had "requested a few minutes of (Benedict's) busy time" when he heard through Cuba's foreign minister that the pope wanted to meet with him.