Pope to visit Cuba in September

Apr 23, 2015, 12:46 AM EDT
Pope Francis gestures as he attends the weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis will travel to Cuba in September ahead of his visit to the U.S., the Vatican has announced, according to the BBC.

In a statement, it said the Pope would be in Cuba on "the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba".

The pontiff is credited with helping bring about last December's diplomatic thaw after the decades-old enmity between communist Cuba and the U.S. The U.S. imposed had imposed a trade embargo soon after Cuba's 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

In the statement, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi did not provide details how long the Pope's visit would last.

The 78-year-old Argentine pontiff will be the third pope to travel to Cuba, following visits there by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI four years later.

"The presence of His Holiness in Cuba will be memorable," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said. "He will receive the warmest hospitality of the Cuban people."

The Vatican's opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba over the decades gave it credibility with Havana as a diplomatic broker while at the same time it had good relations with a string of U.S. administrations, writes Reuters.

Obama visited the pope last year and discussed Cuba. Francis later wrote personal letters to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro urging them to "initiate a new phase" in their relations.

Obama and Castro met on April 11 at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the first formal face-to-face meeting of the two countries' leaders in more than half a century.