ROME.—During a technical stop in the Italian capital, which lasted just less than 24 hours, President Raúl Castro Ruz took advantage of the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis and subsequently with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, commenting to the press, “I am happy and satisfied with this visit.”

The Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church and the Cuban leader spoke personally for the first time in a private one-hour meeting, on the morning of May 10 at the Vatican. Following the encounter, Raúl commented that the conversation had been “magnificent,” adding that he had come to thank Pope Francis for all that he had done “to begin to resolve the problems between the United States and Cuba.”

The Cuban President arrived promptly at 9:30am to the site of the meeting, Paul VI Hall, to find a large number of journalists waiting for him at the door. He was received by Monsignor Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Pontifical Household, who accompanied him to the meeting in the Pope’s private study.

Following their encounter, the two moved to an adjacent room to greet other members of their respective delegations and the press - an opportune moment for Raúl to present the Pontiff with a painting by Cuban artist Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho), entitled Milagro (Miracle,) a work reflecting the phenomenon of emigration, which the painter has described as the slavery of these times.

Pope Francis awarded the Cuban President a commemorative coin issued to mark the second year of his papacy and the Gospel of Joy.

The local press noted the extended duration of the meeting between Raúl and the Pope, and the fact that such events do not customarily take place on Sundays.

Before departing for Cuba, after his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Raúl again spoke with the press about his visit to the Vatican, emphasizing the Pope’s wisdom and modesty. Raúl recalled his studies as a young man at a Jesuit college and noted that he would attend all the masses celebrated by the Pontiff during his September visit to Cuba.

Relations between Cuba and the Vatican were first established 80 years. Some important milestones in the relationship over the years include Fidel’s visit to the Vatican in 1996; the five-day stay in Cuba of Pope John Paul II, in 1998; and Benedict XVI’s 2012 visit.