The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Wednesday that Pope Francis will visit Cuba ahead of his visit to the United States in September 2015.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the Vatican spokesman said, “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.”
The visit to Cuba is especially significant in light of the role played by Pope Francis in diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Cuba, which had been frozen since 1961.
Last December, the White House credited Pope Francis with being an important catalyst to the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States.
The news followed on a year and a half of negotiations between the two countries, personally facilitated by Pope Francis.
In the course of a 15-minute speech, President Obama said: “His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me and to Cuba’s president, Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case and to address Cuba’s interests in the release of three Cuban agents, who’ve been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.”
John Paul confronted the atheist regime, quoting the Father of Cuban culture, Fr Felix Varela, in saying that “there is no motherland without virtue and no virtue without piety.”
“Every people needs to be religious,” he said. “Not only as part of its essence, but for its own practical benefit it needs to be religious…. An irreligious people will die, because nothing in it encourages virtue. Human injustices offend virtue; it is necessary that heavenly justice guarantee it,” he said.
Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba will precede his journey to Philadelphia in the United States for the World Meeting of Families. During his Apostolic Voyage, the Holy Father will also visit Washington, D.C. and New York City.
The year 2015 also marks the 80th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See.
No other details of the Pope’s planned visit to Cuba have been released.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.