WASHINGTON (RNS) A personal appeal by Pope Francis played a key role in finalizing a deal to open relations between the United States and Cuba for the first time in 53 years.
The pope wrote a personal letter to President Obama this fall — something he’d never done before — and a separate letter to Cuban President Raul Castro.
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The letter invited the leaders to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners,” according to a Vatican statement congratulating the two countries Wednesday. The Vatican said it received delegations from both countries in October and helped facilitate a dialogue.
That resulted in a major U.S. policy shift toward Cuba, including a prisoner swap between the two countries that freed American Alan Gross on Wednesday (Dec. 17).
Francis’ support was particularly important given Cuba’s historical and cultural Catholic identity, the official said, and his election as the first-ever pope from Latin America gave him credibility.
Their rationale “stems from the Vatican’s long-standing desire to overcome conflictual divisions between nations,” said Stephen Schneck, who works at the Catholic University of America. “It’s very much part of the pope’s own understanding of proper foreign relations.”
“(They’ve) seen this split between the United States and Cuba as a kind of split among American brothers,” he said.
(Gregory Korte and Orren Dorell write for USA Today)
KRE END KORTE