Vatican City (AsiaNews): "We are all happy today, because we have seen how the two peoples, who distanced themselves from one another for so many years, yesterday took a step towards each other". Speaking to a group of Ambassadors, Pope Francis today commented on the news of the decision, on the part of the United States and Cuba to open the process for the resumption of diplomatic relations, which were interrupted on 4 January 1961.
The news, today on the front pages of newspapers around the world, also refers to the mediation role played by the Vatican and personally by Francis. Not surprisingly, last night, as soon as Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro made the announcement, with an unusual and therefore particularly important procedure, the Vatican Secretariat of State released a statement which said: "The Holy Father wishes to express deep satisfaction for the historic decision of the Governments of the United States and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, in order to overcome, in the interest of their citizens, the difficulties that have marked their recent history. In the course of recent months, the Holy Father wrote to the President of the Republic of Cuba, Mr Raúl Castro, and to the President of the United States, Mr. Barack H. Obama, inviting them to resolve humanitarian issues of common interest, including the situation of some detainees, in order to start a new phase in relations between the two parties. "
"Welcoming during the month of October, the delegations of the two countries, the Holy See aimed to facilitate e a constructive dialogue on sensitive issues; this gave rise to satisfactory solutions for both parties. The Holy See will continue to provide its support to the initiatives that the two countries will undertake to boost bilateral relations and promote the welfare of their citizens. "
The role played by the Pope was specifically recognized by President Obama: "I want - he said yesterday - to thank Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing a vision of the world as it should be, rather than just settle for what it is". And Cuban President Raul Castro thanked the Vatican, "and in particular Pope Francis" for his mediation in the dialogue with the United States.
The Vatican mediation effort began with the deal to free Alan Gross, a US citizen arrested in Cuba in 2009 on charges of espionage. The deterioration of his health was at the origin of a negotiation that began last year, with meetings in Canada between the two parties. And in March, when Obama met with the Pope (pictured), Francis urged the US president to resolve the issue, but also to put an end to the conflict between the two countries.
Later, as highlighted by the Vatican statement, the Pope wrote both to Obama and to Raul Castro and "offered his good offices", with a further step of mediation last October, on the occasion of a visit of by two delegations.
However, although Dow Jones agency speaks of the "crucial role" played by the Vatican and the New York Times writes that "Francis has quickly become one of the most important figures in the world", his role in the turning point of US-Cuba negotiations is undoubtedly related to his status as the first Latin American pope of the Roman Catholic Church". The Holy See's commitment to fill the gap that separated the United States from Cuba comes from afar. John Paul II, during the flight when he became the first Pope to visit Cuba, said that he hoped that "Cuba would open to the world and the world to Cuba," and in the course of that visit he criticized the US embargo.
John Paul II's words were repeated by Benedict XVI in a letter in 2006 to addressed to Cuban Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino and, upon his arrival in Cuba in 2012, hinting that the US embargo created difficulties to the country's economy and to lack of freedom that still dominates the island nation, Benedict XVI added, "that no one may hold back from taking part in this exciting task, for limitation of their own fundamental freedoms, nor may he feel relieved of it, through negligence or lack of material means. A situation that is worsened by restrictive economic measures imposed from outside on the country and that weigh negatively on the population."
Finally, nor to be forgotten are the roles played by Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, with his long standing experience in Latin America, and that of his deputy Angelo Becciu, who was apostolic nuncio in Cuba from 2009 to 2011.
Some in Israel have now expressed hope that the Pope may be able to help break down some of the last walls, like the ones in Palestine and perhaps even the one with Beijing.