Pope Blesses Cancer-Stricken Chavez in Cuba, Journalist Says

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI arrives at Jose Marti airport in Havana. Photographer: L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI gave Hugo Chavez his blessing for a quick recovery in a private meeting in Cuba requested by the cancer-stricken Venezuelan leader, according to an opposition journalist.

Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, Fidel Castro, were present at the 5-minute meeting yesterday in Havana, Nelson Bocaranda, who frequently breaks news on the president’s health in the absence of details from the government, wrote on his blog. The pope gave Chavez a rosary that he blessed, Bocaranda reported without saying how he obtained the information.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, in a phone interview, denied any meeting took place. Phone calls to the Venezuelan Information Ministry seeking comment went unanswered.

The alleged meeting, which Bocaranda first reported was in the works on March 25, was arranged by Venezuelan diplomats who used to work at the South American nation’s mission to the Vatican, the journalist said. All participants agreed the brief meeting would be without media coverage, Bocaranda said.

Chavez has until now downplayed the possibility of a meeting after he traveled to Cuba ahead of the pope’s arrival to undergo radiation therapy for an undisclosed type of cancer.

Chavez, speaking on Venezuelan state television yesterday from Havana, said he didn’t want to “interfere” with the first papal visit to Cuba since 1998.

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