In January 2004 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited Cuba to Inaugurate the first Orthodox Church of Cuba, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, at the invitation of Fidel Castro.
During a three hour dinner together, most of the discussion revolved around issues of education and the need to provide young people with intellectual skills, especially in these critical times when a crisis of values exists internationally.
At this point, Fidel Castro asked the Ecumenical Patriarch for books to be sent to him about Mount Athos, monastic life and Christianity in general, in order for them to be reproduced by the thousands and distributed to the schools. As he emphatically noted: "Ideas are born in monasteries and in places of spiritual searching and not on the streets."
Speaking to Greek journalists covering the visit of the Primate of the Orthodox Church to this island of Central America, Fidel Castro asked to enable him to visit Greece and Mount Athos, which he very much wanted to come to know.
When the Ecumenical Patriarch returned to Constantinople, he found translated into Spanish the book of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos titled A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain, which he immediately sent to Cuba.
The subject of this book, which had been translated into ten languages, concerns noetic prayer, or as indicated by the subtitle, "Conversations with a Hermit about the Prayer."
The Ecumenical Patriarch did not forget his conversation with Fidel Castro when he first visited Mount Athos after his visit to Cuba. In a homily Patriarch Bartholomew referred to the interest of the Cuban leader in Mount Athos: "It may seem strange, but many strange things are happening in our time, which we could describe as modern miracles."
It should be noted that before the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Cuba, there were only four Orthodox Christians on the island. Soon after his visit, there were over a thousand Orthodox Christians, with four priests serving the island, all native Cubans trained in seminaries in Greece. Today there are about 8,000 Orthodox Christians on the island, with only about 50 of them being Greek.
Though I don't know what happened with Castro's desired visit to Greece and Mount Athos, a few months after the visit of the Patriarch to Cuba, the press did issue the following release:
FIDEL CASTRO PLANS TO VISIT MOUNT ATHOS
Thessaloniki, 16 March 2004
Cuban President Fidel Castro's close associate Eusebio Leal will be in Thessaloniki in May to prepare the Cuban leader's visit to the monastic community of Mount Athos in Chalkidiki, northern Greece.
President Castro has also accepted the invitation by Thessaloniki Mayor Vasilis Papageorgopoulos to visit the city given the fact that Thessaloniki and Havana will become twinned cities very soon.
According to Thessaloniki newspaper “Angelioforos”, the Cuban government confirmed President Castro's intention to visit Thessaloniki and Mount Athos after the visit to Cuba by the Ecumenical Patriarch last January on the occasion of the inauguration of the Saint Nicholas Church in Havana.
The date of the visit has not been set yet but according to the newspaper report, the leader of Cuba expressed his wish to visit Greece in a meeting he had with Metropolitan Athenagoras of Panama and Central America.
Fidel Castro's associate Eusebio Leal, ranking third in the hierarchy of the Cuban government, will visit Mount Athos in May to settle the details of Castro's visit to the monastic community.