New U.S.-Cuba relationship frequent theme during pope’s visit
Pope Francis tells Congress it’s his duty to build bridges
White House will continue to seek pope’s support in new relationship
Pope: U.S.-Cuba reconciliation represents ‘positive steps’
Carolyn Kaster AP
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
During Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba and the United States, there have been
constant reminders of the new relationship between the two former
adversaries and the hope for a better future.
Both President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro have thanked
Francis for his behind-the-scenes role in helping along secret
negotiations that culminated in the announcement last December that the
two countries had started on the road toward normalizing relations.
Diplomatic ties were reestablished July 20 after 54 years of
hostilities, and the two countries are in the process of trying to work
through some of the tough issues that still separate them.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski has said that the papal trip has served
as a bridge between the United States and Cuba and that the pope would
use his experience during his trip to Cuba to inform his visit to the
Although the pope didn’t directly mention Cuba during his Thursday
address to the U.S. Congress, one of his references about dialogue
between countries seemed apt for the new U.S-Cuba relationship.
“It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any
way possible, to do the same,” the pope told a joint session of
Congress. “When countries which have been at odds resume the path of
dialogue — a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most
legitimate of reasons — new opportunities open up for all.”
So far, there have been other parallels in the pope’s visits to the two
Although Cuba was officially atheist from 1962 to 1992 and Castro is a
member of the Communist Party, he followed the pope at masses in all
three Cuban cities he visited and watched attentively at Antonio Maceo
International Airport in Santiago on Tuesday until the pontiff’s
Alitalia flight for Washington, D.C., took off.
On the pope’s arrival in Washington, it was President Barack Obama who
walked side-by-side with him and told him: “Holy Father, we are grateful
for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people,
which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries,
greater cooperation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the
In his remarks, Francis, the first pope from the Americas, also touched
on the possibilities of reconciliation. “Mr. President, the efforts
which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new
doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps
along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom,” he said.
During a White House briefing this week, spokesman Josh Earnest noted
that the president “has had a desire to travel to Cuba even before Pope
Francis made the decision to travel to the island.
“There’s nothing that we saw about the pope’s visit that in any way
diminishes the president’s enthusiasm for that — for that possibility,”
The White House has said that the president will continue to seek the
pontiff’s support as it proceeds with its new relationship with Cuba.
It also pointed up Cuban and U.S. cooperation on health issues in Haiti
and the two countries’ previous collaboration on fighting Ebola as
demonstrating “how our continued normalization of relations with Cuba
can help us advance our interests in the Americas.”
During the papal Mass in Havana, Francis called on Cubans to serve their
brothers and sisters, saying “we do not serve ideas; we serve people.”
Analysts said that message also was aimed at the Cuban government.
Francis also reminded U.S. legislators during his congressional address
that “legislative activity is always based on care for the people.”
Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre — one of the most
powerful symbols in Cuba for believers and non-believers alike — also
was frequently mentioned by the pope while he was on Cuban soil. A papal
Mass also was celebrated at the national shrine for the virgin in El
Cobre, an old copper mining town outside Santiago.
During a visit to Miami in May, President Obama also visited the Shrine
of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove. The gesture, seen
as an olive branch to those in the Cuban-American community troubled at
the rapprochement, was the first visit by a U.S. president to the
seaside shrine better known as La Ermita de la Caridad.
During Francis’ encounter with families in Santiago, there also was
another powerful message of reconciliation and bridging as a Cuban
Catholic priest presented the pope with an image of Cachita, Cuba’s
affectionate name for Our Lady of Charity, and asked that it be given to
Cuban families in the United States.
Mimi Whitefield: @HeraldMimi
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