(People wait as children are baptized near a poster of Pope Benedict in a catholic church in the village of Marti in the province of Matanzas in central Cuba, around 160 km (99 miles) east of Havana March 10, 2012. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan)

The Vatican on Friday condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba ahead of Pope Benedict’s trip there next week and said the pontiff was willing to meet Fidel Castro.

“The Holy See believes that the embargo is something that makes the people suffer the consequences. It does not achieve the aim of the greater good,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.

“The Holy See does not believe it is a positive or useful measure,” he said in response to a question at a briefing about Benedict’s trip to Mexico and Cuba from March 23-28.

The embargo, which marked its 50th anniversary last month and which Cubans call “the blockade”, is still the cornerstone of U.S. policy toward the Caribbean island 90 miles from Florida, although it has failed to meet its primary objective of undermining Castro’s communist government. Read the full story here.