- Pope Francis played key role in re-establishing diplomatic ties between Cuba and U.S.
- "Contacts with the Cuban authorities are still in too early a phase," Vatican spokesman says
(CNN)Washington. New York. Philadelphia. Havana?
The Vatican says Pope Francis may add another leg to his trip to the United States this September, visiting Cuba just months after he helped negotiate a diplomatic thaw between the two nations.
The possibility, which would add a dimension of international intrigue to an already highly anticipated trip, was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.
In response to reporters' questions, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement, "The Holy Father has taken into consideration the idea of making a stop in Cuba" on his way to or from the United States this September.
"However, contacts with the Cuban authorities are still in too early a phase for it to be possible to regard this as a firm decision or an operative plan," Lombardi continued.
Francis, the first pontiff to hail from Latin America, played a key role in the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, earning praise from both President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
The Pope made personal pleas to Obama and Cuban leaders in private letters, writing that the two nations should try to reset their relations after decades of friction. The Vatican also hosted talks between U.S. and Cuban delegations in October, where they hashed out aspects of a new trade policy and discussed the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, who was freed as part of the detente between the two countries.
"I want to thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is," Obama said in December as he announced the U.S. policy shift.
Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has displayed a deep interest in international affairs. He repeatedly urged Western leaders not to bomb Syria, hosted a prayer service between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the Vatican and waded into diplomatic controversy on Sunday by referring to the killing of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago as a "genocide," a move that deeply upset Turkish leaders, who recalled their Vatican ambassador.
The Pope is expected to continue his international activism this July with a trip to South America, where he will visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. Just a few months later, in late September, Francis will visit Washington, where he will address Congress; New York, where he will address the U.N. General Assembly; and Philadelphia, where he will celebrate a public Mass that's expected to draw more than 1 million people.
In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday, Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Pope's host in Philadelphia, said he'd hadn't heard about the potential for a papal visit to Cuba until he turned on the morning news.
Two previous Popes have visited the Caribbean nation: St. John Paul II in 1998 and former Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.