The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis had accepted an invitation to visit Cuba. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement: “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.” No further details of the Pope’s plans to visit Cuba were given by the Vatican. Francis will be the third pope to travel to Cuba, following visits to the island nation by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.
The announcement of the Pope’s visit follows the recent steps toward renewal of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The Vatican hosted secret meetings last year between diplomats from the two countries that are credited with helping bring about last December’s diplomatic warming between the two nations. The Pope also personally intervened by sending letters to both President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro urging them to find ways to move forward on issues that separate the two nations. The Vatican initiative culminated with the December announcement that Cuba and the United States planned to renew diplomatic ties.