Francis considering visit to island during America trip

Pope Francis is considering a trip to Cuba in September to tie in with his visit to the United States, a move that could further improve diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that Francis “is considering the idea of a Cuba leg” but that discussions about the visit are at a preliminary stage.

According to Associated Press, he added that it was too early to say that a decision has been taken or that operational planning was underway.

In what will be the Pope’s first trip to the US, the Pontiff will travel to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia in September. He will join a session in Congress and be hosted by President Obama in the White House.

A visit to Cuba would be a historic addition to this itinerary. Pope Francis has already played a major role in the re-opening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, last summer writing letters to both Barack Obama and Raul Castro that eventually led to the release of US prisoner, Alan Gross.

In the letters, Pope Francis called for the two presidents “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations.”

Pope Francis, like his predecessors, called for an end to US financial and travel restrictions in the first step to finding common ground between the two countries.

Since December the relations between the US and Cuba have improved. Only last week President Obama said Cuba will be removed from the list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’. However, US Congress would need to vote in favour of lifting the embargo the US currently has in place on Cuba.

If the Pope’s trip to Cuba were to take place it would be a step forward in improving relations that have been strained since 1961 as a result of the Cuban Revolution.

It would also only be the third visit by a Pope to Cuba, St John Paul II being the first pontiff to visit in 1998.

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