Pope Francis' international diplomacy brought US and Cuba to sign historic deal
Pope Francis played key role in U.S.-Cuba deal
USA Today | December 18, 2014
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.
Aside from President Obama and the Cuban president, the pontiff was the only other foreign leader directly involved in the talks, the official said.
Francis' support was particularly important given Cuba's historical and cultural Catholic identity, the official said, and his election as the first-ever pope from Latin America gave him credibility.