ROME — Pope Francis is considering adding a stop in Cuba as the first leg of his trip to the United States this September, but the Vatican said Friday that it’s too early to consider it a firm plan.
“The Holy Father has taken into consideration the idea of making a stop in Cuba on the occasion of his upcoming trip to the United States,” a statement said. “However, the contacts with the Cuban authorities are still in too early a phase for it to be possible to regard this stop as a firm decision and an operative plan.”
The statement from Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi came in reply to a report from The Wall Street Journal Thursday that such a stop was being considered.
In response to a Crux inquiry, the Cuban embassy to Italy declined to comment on the statement.
Speaking on background because they’re not authorized to discuss the matter, sources both in the Vatican and the diplomatic community told Crux that caution is in order about the prospect of a Cuba stop because logistical complexities may rule it out.
The pontiff has already confirmed his visit to the United States in September.
Rumors about Francis going to another country while traveling to America have arisen before, when the pope himself said at one stage that he hoped to enter the United States through the Mexico border.
This possibility was eventually abandoned because, as Francis said during a January news conference, logistics and distance made the stop a difficult one. Among other things, he said, he’d feel obliged to make his way to the famed shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe if he entered Mexico.
“To go to Mexico without going to visit the Madonna would be a drama!” he said, joking that “war could break out.”
Although the final dates for Francis’ first-ever visit to the US haven’t been officially announced by the Vatican, he will meet President Barack Obama in Washington, DC on the 23rd and address a joint session of Congress the next day. He is scheduled to deliver a speech at the United Nations’ General Assembly on the 25th, then participate in the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27.
While in Washington, Francis will canonize the Rev. Junipero Serra, an 18th century Spanish Franciscan friar and the founder of California’s missions. Serra is a controversial figure in some circles for his role in a process that critics say began the decimation of the Native American population on the West Coast.
The Catholic News Agency reported Friday that Pope Francis will join a celebration at Rome’s American seminary, the North American College, to honor the soon-to-be saint and to encourage devotion to him on May 2.
Monsignor James F. Checchio, rector of the Pontifical North American College, told Crux that Francis’ participation hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s possible because the pope has shown interest in participating.
“It would certainly be the highlight of the year!” Checchio said over the phone.
Should Francis visit Cuba, it would be a place where he’s made a difference. Both US President Barak Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro credited Pope Francis for playing a key role in the US-Cuba diplomatic agreement announced last December.
A possible papal outing to Cuba would make Francis the third pontiff to set foot in the island. Pope John Paul II was the first to do so, with a historic visit in 1998. Some years later, in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made a three-day visit to Cuba, celebrating a Mass attended by Fidel Castro.
While on the island nation, both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had called for an end to the US embargo.