VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi S.J. confirmed to journalists today that Pope Francis will make a pastoral stop in Cuba ahead of his September apostolic voyage to the United States.
The Vatican spokesman made the announcement to journalists April 22 around 2:15 p.m. in the Holy See press office.
In an official statement released shortly after, the spokesman said: "I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States."
Although the details of the stop have not been released, it is expected that Pope Francis will meet with Cuban authorities. He is not expected to meet with Cuban president Raul Castro, according to a Vatican source.
Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, traveled to Cuba April 22, where he will stay until the 28th in celebration of the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See.
Cardinal Stella served as papal nuncio to Cuba from 1993-1999, and helped pave the way and organize St. John Paul II's visit in 1998, which marked the first-ever papal trip to the Caribbean Island.
The cardinal is set to meet with local clergy during his visit, and will celebrate three Masses. He will also encounter the top officials of the Cuban government and of the Communist Party.
His visit may represent a further fostering of the Holy See contribution in Cuba, and could be seen as a sign of the papal effort to help normalize relations between Cuba and the United States.
On the eve of the Dec. 17 announcement of the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone traveled to Cuba for a private visit.
In the coming days Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, former papal nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, will take up his post as the new nuncio to Cuba. He was appointed to the position March 17, and one of his main tasks will be to help facilitate talks between U.S. and Cuba.
The stop in Cuba this year fits within the framework of Pope Francis' efforts in the dialogue, since Washington and Havana are currently in talks to re-establish full diplomatic ties.
Now that it's official, the stop will be the first in a week-long papal voyage to the United States. Although the official program for the Pope's trip to the U.S. has not been released, some appointments have been already been confirmed.
Pope Francis will be the first pope to speak to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington, which is scheduled to take place Sept. 24.
On March 18, secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon made it official that Francis will address the U.N. General Assembly in New York Sept. 25, and then move on to Philadelphia Sep. 26-27 to attend the World Meeting of Families.
The Pope's appointments in New York are also expected to include a visit to Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, that brought down New York City's twin World Trade Center towers.
In Philadelphia, the two big events the Pope is anticipated to attend are a prayer vigil on the 26th and Sunday Mass on the 27th.
The organizational committee for the Pope's U.S. visit includes: Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York; Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio to the United States; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, archbishop of Boston; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, secretary-general at the bishops' conference, as well as a team of various secretaries and assistants.