VATICAN CITY, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The diplomatic skills of Pope Francis were lauded as a significant element in the historic breakthrough between the United States and Cuba Wednesday.
The Pope, who turned 78 Wednesday, was credited with sending letters urging the two sides to decide "humanitarian questions" and "initiate a new phase in relations," a Vatican spokesman said, and charging Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin with a secret October meeting at which the United States and Cuba sought a trusted broker.
The beginning of the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba was announced Wednesday.
"The Holy See (the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome) 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," Parolin's office said in a statement congratulating both sides.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro each publically thanked the Pope's involvement in the diplomatic development, in which inmates were freed, lifts of travel and currency restrictions were announced, and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, closed since 1959, was promised.
"I want to thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is," Obama said in announcing the change in U.S. policy.
"I wish to congratulate the Government of the United States and the Government of Cuba on their successful dialogue and negotiations which will lead to normalized relations between their two countries. Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks."
The involvement of Pope Francis is the latest attempt by the Vatican to maintain a place in world diplomacy. He held a prayer meeting with Israeli and Palestinian presidents that did not prevent a war in Gaza, but the U.S.-Cuba breakthrough came about, in large part, through his standing as the Catholic Church's first Latin American Pope.
"He knows the Cuban situation by heart," Gianni La Bella, a member of the international Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic group of 50,000 members based in Rome, told the New York Times. "He visited (Cuba) when he was a cardinal and has a strong relationship with the archbishop of Havana, who is obviously a strategic player in this."