HAVANA (AP) — Pope Francis hailed detente between the United States and Cuba as a model of reconciliation for the world, urging Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to persevere in building normal ties as the pontiff launched a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes Saturday.
Francis’ surprisingly direct call for progress toward normalization came after weeks of Vatican assurances that he would not explicitly address politics during his pastoral trip to Cuba and the U.S. Francis served as mediator and guarantor of 18 months of secret negotiations that led to the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries this year.
“For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement,” Francis said in a speech on the tarmac of Jose Marti International Airport.
“I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”
Francis extended his greetings to Raul’s brother Fidel, with whom Francis is expected to meet as early as Sunday. He also said he wanted his greeting “to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet” — a possible nod to political dissidents as well as ordinary Cubans across the island.