Pope Francis Played Key Role In Finalizing U.S.-Cuba Deal

Pope Francis attends his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on December 17, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images Europe)
Pope Francis attends his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square on December 17, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images Europe)

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 Raúl Castro.

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.

“The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens,” the statement said.

In addition to the Vatican meeting this fall, discussions between the two leaders took place in Canada over the past year and a half, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly.

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SOURCE: USA Today
Gregory Korte and Oren Dorell

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