Ahead of his highly anticipated tour of the United States, which begins today in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis kicked off his swing through the Western Hemisphere Saturday, arriving in Cuba. The Pope has largely been credited as a catalyst in the continuing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, Francis spent the weekend celebrating mass in front of over 200,000 people in Havana’s Revolutionary Square before private talks with Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader and former President Fidel Castro.
Pope Francis’ political statements were less overtly critical than his predecessors, which some attribute to his continued push for the restoration of ties between the U.S. and Cuba. Meanwhile, Raul Castro praised Francis for his role in the U.S.-Cuba thaw. Francis also took the time to praise “the normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement,” calling the thaw “an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”
When announcing the restoration of diplomatic relations, both Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama thanked Pope Francis for his role in negotiations. In April, when Francis announced that he was adding a stop in Cuba ahead of his U.S. visit, the Obama administration expressed their support of the move via White House staffer Ben Rhodes:
— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) April 22, 2015
This week marks the Pope’s first visit to the U.S., and it doesn’t come without its own set of controversies, including his brokering of the U.S.-Cuba deals and his muted political criticism of the Communist country. However, following his visit to Cuba, many Cubans, the overwhelming majority of whom support the ease of tensions between the US. and Cuba, expressed optimism and hope that Francis’ visit signifies good things for the country ahead. And they have good reason – on Friday, the thaw continued as the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce announced further regulatory changes to existing sanctions against Cuba.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://s3.amazonaws.com/thesanjosegroup/people/bio_pictures/000/000/019/bio/Kevin_Echavarria.jpg?1432760022[/author_image] [author_info]Kevin Echavarria is SJG’s Manager of Global Content and Digital Innovation. A graduate of Northwestern University and a Texas native, he specializes in the intersection of U.S. and Latin American pop culture and media. You can find more of his work here.[/author_info] [/author]