Pope Francis played a key role in the successful recent negotiations between the U.S and Cuba, adding another reason for his growing public appeal. U.S. president Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the pontiff issued a personal communication to both President Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro, urging them to resolve the case of five prisoners being held in the two countries.
The head of state sent a personal letter to each of the presidents. According to a senior Obama administrative official, the pope’s letter were an appeal for the two leaders to negotiate the release of Alan Gross and another unnamed America prisoner who were being held in Cuba, and three Cubans being held in the U.S. after being convicted of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami. Upon the successful brokerage of a landmark deal, involving the first presidential communications between the two countries in over 50 years, Vatican officials issued a statement congratulating Cuba and the U.S. on their historic decision.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church, who celebrates his 78th birthday today, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina as Jorge Mario Bergoglio. On March 13, 2013, he was appointed head of the Roman Catholic Church and became the first Vatican leader to herald from out side of Europe. Prior to his appointment, Pope Francis had spent five years serving in his birth town as archbishop, and 12 as the cardinal of Argentina’s Roman Catholic Church.
The new pontiff was viewed by the Catholic church as a leader with more progressive views than those of his predecessors. During his first year in office, Pope Francis began to express his desire for changes within the church and throughout the world. At the end of 2013, his achievements had earned him the honor of being named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. One year later, the pope has no doubt boosted his public profile with his role in facilitating the successful U.S.-Cuba negotiations.
The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) described the pope’s first 12 months as involving a “whirlwind of activity and surprises.” At the anniversary of his papal election, the general consensus was that he had changed the Vatican’s inner culture from the long-held views of leadership for status and power to one of leadership for service. He has also changed the Catholic church’s public image from one of a strong stance against numerous modern day social issues such as gay marriage, birth control and abortion, to one of compassion and love for all. NCR writer Thomas Reese wrote that the pope has been so successful in improving the church’s image that, “business schools could use him as a case study in rebranding.”
The exact meaning of many of Pope Francis’ statements are still being debated, however the church head has introduced new rhetoric which suggests reform is occurring within the church. One example is regarding homosexuality: whereas Pope Benedict described it in 2005 as an “inherent moral evil,” Pope Francis has said that homosexuals have “…gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community” and “need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy.”
The current pontiff appears to be trying to bring the Catholic church into line with the world’s current social trends, appealing to not only his own followers, but also people outside the church, to become more compassionate and aware of the needs of their fellow man. The 21st century pontiff even has a Facebook page through which he connects with potentially thousands of people on a daily basis. In a modern-day world that is embracing modern-day ideas and technology, Pope Francis’ involvement in the successful negotiations and renewed relations between Cuba and the U.S. has no doubt added to his public profile as a modern-day pope.
By Monica Grant
Photo by European Parliament – Flickr Page