Leaders of Cuba's Catholic Church expressed joy Wednesday on learning that Pope Francis will visit the island in September amid the budding Vatican-mediated rapprochement between Havana and Washington. Francis will stop in Cuba before his Sept. 23 meeting in the United States with President Barack Obama.
On previous form, it is likely the pontiff's stay in Cuba will include an encounter with President Raul Castro.
There is much hope about these visits because of the important role the pope played and in the face of the possible meetings with both presidents, which will have not just a symbolic value, but a direct impact on the Cuba-U.S. dialogue, said Monsignor Jose Felix Garcia, assistant secretary of the Cuban bishops conference.
Garcia said Cuban Catholics highly appreciate Francis' efforts to foster the Cuba-U.S. diplomatic thaw.
The pope, according to Garcia, radiates a special sympathy because of the kindness and simplicity that characterize his pontificate.
The monsignor called it providential that Cuba is to receive a third papal visit in 17 years, following those of the late John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.
The announcement of Francis' upcoming visit coincided with the arrival in Cuba of one of his closest advisers, Cardinal Beniamo Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, who was papal nuncio in Havana from 1993-1999.