Pope Fran­cis plans Cuba visit

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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 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.

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 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 the 1960s.

Obama and Cuban Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro shook hands ear­lier this month dur­ing a meet­ing at the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas in 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, ac­cord­ing to the AP. “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.”

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