Vatican City, Apr 17, 2015 / 02:58 am
The Holy See Press Office confirmed today that Pope Francis is considering a possible stop in Cuba as part as his trip to United States, which is scheduled to take place in September.
"The Holy Father has taken into consideration the idea to stop in Cuba as part of his coming voyage to the United States," an April 17 press release from the Vatican revealed.
However, the release clarified that "contact with the authorities of the country is still at a very initial stage, so it is not possible to speak of this stop as having already been decided and that there is an operative project going on."
Although it's in the preliminary stages, contact with Cuban officials is sure to be strengthened in the coming week with the visit of Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, who will travel to the country Apr. 22-28 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See.
Cardinal Stella served as papal nuncio to Cuba from 1993-1999, and helped pave the way and organize St. John Paul II's visit in 1998, which marked the first-ever papal trip to the Caribbean Island.
The cardinal is set to meet with local clergy during his visit, and will celebrate three Masses. He will also encounter the top officials of the Cuban government and of the Communist Party.
His visit may represent a further fostering of the Holy See contribution in Cuba, and could be seen as a sign of the papal effort to help normalize relations between Cuba and the United States.
On the eve of the Dec. 17 announcement of the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone traveled to Cuba for a private visit.
In the coming days Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, former papal nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, will take up his post as the new nuncio to Cuba. He was appointed to the position March 17, and one of his main tasks will be to help facilitate talks between U.S. and Cuba.
The possible stop in Cuba this year would fit within the framework of Pope Francis' efforts in the dialogue, since Washington and Havana are currently in talks to re-establish the diplomatic ties.
If the Cuba visit is made official, it would be the first stop in a week-long papal voyage to the United States. Although the official program for the Pope's trip to the U.S. has not been released, some appointments have been already been confirmed.
Pope Francis will be the first pope to speak to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington, which is scheduled to take place Sept. 24.
On March 18, secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon made it official that Francis will address the U.N. General Assembly in New York Sept. 25, and then move on to Philadelphia Sep. 26-27 to attend the World Meeting of Families.
The Pope's appointments in New York are also expected to include a visit to Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, that brought down New York City's twin World Trade Center towers.
In Philadelphia, the two big events the Pope is anticipated to attend are a prayer vigil on the 26th and Sunday Mass on the 27th.
The organizational committee for the Pope's U.S. visit includes: Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York; Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio to the United States; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, archbishop of Boston; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, secretary-general at the bishops' conference, as well as a team of various secretaries and assistants.