Pope Francis met Cuban President Raul Castro in the Vatican over the weekend, with Castro coming away saying he’s sufficiently dazzled with history’s first Latin American pontiff that he – a professed Communist — just might find religion.

Sunday’s tête-à-tête was a prelude to Francis’ scheduled stop in Cuba in late September on his way to the United States, and the question now is whether it’s realistic to expect anything more from that visit than another round of beaming photos and cute one-liners.

It’s tempting to see it as a victory lap. Both Castro and US President Barack Obama already have credited Francis with paving the way for ending Cold War tensions, and no doubt additional tributes will be forthcoming.

Yet that rapprochement is now an accomplished fact, and it’s not clear if any diplomatic breakthrough is on the horizon. Further, this is the third papal visit to Cuba after John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI. The first outing by a pope to a previously isolated society is historic, the second is memorable, but the third can’t help but feel a bit routine.

So will the visit be mostly a cosmetic exercise? Perhaps, but Cuban Catholics will be hoping for much more in two senses: one immediate and the other long-term.

Immediately: Demand more freedom. Francis earned a massive deposit of political capital by helping Cuba improve its relationship with the United States, and the trip amounts to a chance to cash it in by insisting on greater religious and political freedom.

Anti-Castro protesters, including members of the renowned “Ladies in White,” an opposition movement composed of wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents who attend Mass each Sunday and then march silently wearing white dresses, are still routinely subject to arrest and interrogation. Often, they’re roughed up before being released.

One Cuban opposition group tallied 338 politically motivated detentions in April, following a near-record total of 610 in March.

In that context, Francis has the chance to deliver a message to Castro: If you want me to continue having your back — and you’ve seen how valuable that can be — this has to end.

Francis could also do something on this trip that Benedict XVI did not during his 2012 visit, which is legitimize the Ladies in White and other expressions of civil society by meeting them along the way.

Three years ago, not only did Benedict steer clear of the Ladies in White, but some members were arrested while the pontiff was in the country, and others were warned by security services not to attend his events. Some Ladies in White also found their cell phone service suspended after they spoke to foreign reporters.

Veteran Catholic writer George Weigel called Benedict’s performance in Cuba a curiously “Protestant” exercise, suggesting that the pontiff said all the right words, but was strikingly deficient in the Catholic emphasis on “sacramentality,” meaning visual symbols that would make those words tangible.

No doubt, Cuban civil society will be hoping for something more sacramental from Francis this time around.

Long-term: Boost Catholicism. Over the long haul, Cuban Catholics also will be hoping that Francis can do something to rekindle the faith on the island nation, because the truth is that it’s not in good shape.

Only about 2 percent of Cuba’s 11 million people are believed to attend church services on a weekly basis, roughly evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants. Only 6 percent of Cubans self-identify as Catholics, with about 11 percent declaring themselves Protestant, while almost half of the population says it has no religion at all. (Eight in 10 Cubans do acknowledge dipping in and out of traditional Afro-Cuban religious practices.)

In other words, Cuba isn’t Poland, where decades of state-imposed atheism actually made the faith stronger. Instead, the effort to scrub religion out of society has enjoyed fairly striking success, and today the faith sometimes seems to live on more in institutions than in popular conviction.

The real challenge for Francis in Cuba is to give Cubans a reason to believe. What the Church there seems to need is what Pope St. John Paul II called a “New Springtime of Evangelization,” meaning a drive to relight the missionary fires of the faith.

Last year, the Catholic bishops of Cuba adopted a pastoral plan for 2014-2020 calling on Cuba’s Catholic laity to become missionaries and evangelizers, concluding that, “We proclaim our faith that conversion to Jesus Christ is our hope.”

Yet in a culture where there sometimes seems to be almost as many bishops as faithful — one cardinal, two archbishops, and 13 bishops in a country where maybe 600,000 people consider themselves Catholic, and perhaps no more than 100,000 actually go to Mass — the question is how to make that vision real.

If Francis the pastor, as opposed to Francis the diplomat, can provide something approaching an answer, his contribution on that front — not geopolitics, or the short-term optics of the visit — would likely be the real breakthrough.