William M. LeoGrande: Here’s why Cuba should be on Francis’ agenda when he meets Trump

(NCR Online) President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in Rome May 24, as part of the president’s first trip abroad. No specific agenda has been announced, but the last time a U.S. president stopped by the Vatican to see the pope, much of their discussion centered on Cuba.

Barack Obama met with Francis in March 2014, at a time when the secret negotiations that would eventually lead to the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations were stalled. Francis, encouraged by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington D.C., and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, urged Obama to make the compromises necessary to bring the talks to a successful conclusion, and he offered his good offices.

As spring turned to summer with no discernible progress, Francis wrote letters to both Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro imploring them “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations.” The gentle prodding by the Holy Father helped move the dialogue forward. As the talks neared conclusion, the Vatican hosted the penultimate negotiating session in which the pope and the Vatican’s foreign office gave the final terms of the accord their blessing.

When Obama and Castro announced their agreement to begin normalizing relations Dec. 17, 2014, Francis publicly praised the dawn of a new era in U.S.-Cuban relations. “Today we’re all happy,” he said, “because we saw how two people who had been so far apart for so many years took a step closer yesterday.” In their televised addresses, both Castro and Obama thanked the pope for his role in bringing about the agreement.

When Francis and Trump meet later this month, they will have a lot to talk about and, perhaps, some fences to mend. Francis famously upbraid Trump (albeit not by name) in February 2016 when he said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Trump, never one to let a slight go unanswered, called the pope’s comment “disgraceful” and blamed Mexican officials for misleading him and turning him into their “pawn.” [More]


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