Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro on Sunday and gave him a special gift: a book and two CDs with the homilies and songs of Father Armando Llorente, a Jesuit priest who was Castro’s school teacher. Before Father Llorente’s death, he publically asked for Castro’s conversion and repentance.
Father Llorente was Castro’s teacher and mentor at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, where Castro studied until he was 16 years old.
In 2007, in an interview given from exile in Miami, Florida, the priest asked to meet Castro and said he was willing to immediately go to Cuba and hear his confession.
“The first thing that we would do would be to give each other a big hug, laugh and remember the adventures that we had together, which were many and very beautiful.” Then he would tell him: “Fidel, the moment of truth has arrived,” Llorent told the news agency Efe.
The Spanish-born priest emphasized that he maintained hope that he would be able to absolve Castro of his sins. He stressed the need for him to publically ask for forgiveness ¨because his sins were not only personal.¨
Llorente was a 24-year-old Jesuit novice when he was sent to Cuba in 1942 to finish his formation. When he was a teacher at the preparatory school, Castro was his best student and had many very good friends.
In 1945, the priest wrote in the school yearbook: “Fidel Castro, has the makings of a hero, the history of his motherland will have to speak about him.¨
In the 2007 interview, Father Llorente said that Castro’s school years were the best of his life because up until then “he didn’t feel loved by anyone.” He had many “traumas and issues” knowing that he was the conceived in an extramarital affair of his father, Angel Castro, and Lina Ruz, who worked as a servant in his house.
During the Cuban Revolution in December 1958, Father Llorente, under the guise of a rancher, was able to reach Castro and speak to him.
¨He confessed to me that he had lost the faith, and I responded to him: ‘Fidel, one thing is to lose your faith and another thing is to lose your dignity’.”
Castro would expel the Society of Jesus from Cuba.
In 1961, Father Llorente was forced into exile in Miami where he established a branch of the Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria, a Marian Congregation whose spirituality is based upon Jesuit formation principles with a strong Marian reflection.
Fr. Llorente lived in Miami until his death on April 28, 2010 at the age of 91.
After the priest’s death, Cardinal Sean O’Malley wrote that Father Llorente “gave more retreats in one year than the majority of Jesuits give in their lifetime. He had a great gift to inspire the youth to be more active in the Church.”
Cardinal O’Malley described the priest as “an eloquent teacher of Ignatian spirituality and the gospel life.”