Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed on Wednesday that Pope Francis would visit Cuba this September prior to a three-city tour of the U.S.
“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 to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States for the trip announced some time ago,” affirmed Lombardi in a statement.
Lombardi’s remarks come after he claimed on April 17th that plans for a papal visit to Cuba were “still at too early a stage to be able to talk about a firm decision and an operational plan.”
The Argentine-born pontiff will thus become the third consecutive head of the Roman Catholic Church to visit the Caribbean country. Pope Benedict XVI called for greater religious liberties and prayed for dissidents “deprived of freedom” during his trip to Cuba three years ago. The Cuban government granted greater recognition to Catholics following Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island in 1998. Years before becoming the Pope, the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergolio, subsequently wrote a book describing the effects of that vital visit.
Pope Francis has been credited with being instrumental to the push between Cuban and U.S. leaders to normalize bilateral relations after decades of mistrust. Francis oversaw final talks between delegations from the U.S. and Cuba at the Vatican last October. Following the historic announcements by Barack Obama and Raul Castro to improve ties last December, Francis sent them each letters urging them to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners.”
“Efforts to build bridges, communication channels, build relationships, seek the agreement are never in vain,” said Francis in a message sent as part of the Summit of the Americas held earlier this month. It was during the conference that Obama and Castro held the first formal talks between Cuban and U.S. leaders in more than fifty years.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, said last month that the improvement in U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations “will be very beneficial for the Church” and noted that the Cuban people “are happy with this new situation.”
Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, former Vatican representative to Jordan and Iraq, will soon take up his post as the new nuncio to Cuba. He was appointed to the position March 17, and one of his main tasks will reportedly be to help facilitate talks between the U.S. and Cuba.
The Vatican announced last week that Francis would stop this July in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay as part of his second-ever papal visit to Latin America. (The first was in 2013 when he attended the Catholic World Youth Day and addressed up to three million people at a vigil on Copacabana Beach).
Nearly three out of every four Latin Americans have a favorable view of Pope Francis according to a December 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center. Yet he has received criticism in Chile over the appointment of a bishop believed to have helped cover up alleged sexual abuse. In Brazil, meanwhile, a “breakaway group of ultra-conservative Catholics” is being led by a radical excommunicated bishop named Jean-Michel Faure:
“The current pope is preaching doctrine denied by (the late conservative Pope) Pius X. He is less Catholic than us,” he said. “He does not follow the doctrine of the faith that are the words of Jesus Christ”…
Faure talks more of a coming third world war.
“It would be horrible, but it would change the world. But the day after wouldn’t be like the day before,” Faure said, pointing to the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. “It would change many things in the world. It would be a new approach in many aspects and why not, in religion.”
YouTube Source – Rome Reports (Video from December 2014)
Online Sources – The Guardian, Reuters, Catholic News Agency, Vatican News, BBC News, US TODAY, Pew Research Center, NBC News, The Latin Americanist, Latin American Herald Tribune