Pope Francis will visit Cuba in September, a Vatican spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
While details have not been announced, the stop in Cuba will precede the pope’s three-city tour of the United States in late September, during which Francis will give addresses to Congress and the United Nations, as well as celebrate a public Mass in Philadelphia.
“I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided the pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi told journalists.
The visit could be seen as something of a victory lap for Francis, who was credited by the leaders of both nations for helping to broker an agreement reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In December, it was revealed that the Holy See encouraged secret talks lasting 18 months, primarily in Canada, and that the Vatican hosted the final meeting in October. As part of the agreement, Cuban officials released American prisoner Alan Gross. The final agreement was reached during a telephone call between President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro on Dec. 16.
Obama thanked the pope the next day, praising Francis, “whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”
He followed up again in the State of the Union address, urging Congress to lift the economic embargo against Cuba that has been in place since 1960.
“And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo. As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of ‘small steps.’ These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba.”
Some Cuban-Americans expressed frustration at the time with the pope’s role in the talks between the United States and Cuba.
“I would … ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,” said Florida Senator and US presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, a Catholic, told Talking Points Memo in December. “I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from; as the people of Italy have, where he now lives.
“Obviously the Vatican’s its own state, but very nearby,” the senator said. “My point is I hope that people with that sort of prestige on the world stage will take up the cause of freedom and democracy. The Cuban people are the only people in this hemisphere that have not been able to elect a leader in more than 55 or 60 years. That’s outrageous.”
Earlier this month, Obama and Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City. While not present, the pope sent a letter, urging the heads of state gathered to cooperate in alleviating poverty.
“I am convinced that inequality, the unfair distribution of wealth and resources, is a source of conflict and violence among peoples,” the pope said, “because it assumes that the progress of some is built on the necessary sacrifice of others and that, to live in dignity, we must fight against others.”
The United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett, told Crux in a statement that he is “pleased to hear of the pope’s upcoming trip to Cuba.”
“As President Obama has previously stated, Pope Francis’ moral example has been a catalyst for positive change in relation to Cuba,” he continued. “We encourage the Holy See and all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Cubans.”
Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba, following Pope John Paul II in 1998 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, and the fourth pontiff to visit the United States, after Pope Paul the VI in 1965, Pope John Paul II, who traveled to the US seven times, and Pope Benedict XVI, who was in the country in 2008.
Before his September travel, Francis will visit Bosnia in early June, and he is scheduled to visit Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador, in what will be his second trip to Latin America.