Pope Francis will travel to Cuba ahead of his planned trip to the United States in September, a Vatican spokesman said Wednesday. The announcement came days after Roman Catholic Church officials confirmed they had engaged in talks with Cuban authorities regarding a potential visit.
The Vatican has yet to provide specific dates for the pope’s trip or locations that he plans to visit, the Associated Press reported. Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Philadelphia, New York City and Washington D.C. and is expected to address the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.
Pope Francis will become the third pope in history to visit Cuba, following a 1998 trip by Pope John Paul II and a 2012 visit by Pope Benedict XVI. The Roman Catholic Church previously urged increased interaction between Cuba and the international community. It has long opposed both Cuba’s communist system and the U.S.’s embargo on the Caribbean nation, the AP reported.
The pope played a major role in the recent thaw in long-held tensions between the United States and Cuba, at times serving as an intermediary for the two nations. The Vatican hosted a high-level meeting with American and Cuban officials that preceded U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision earlier this year to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba for the first time since 1961.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands earlier this month during a meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama. Obama said the renewed dialogue would help usher in prosperity to impoverished Cubans.
"As the United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, we hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people," Obama told representatives of civil rights groups at the time, the AP reported. "Not because it is imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspirations, and the conversations among Cubans from all walks of life so they can decide what the best course is for their prosperity."