Pope Francis and the Vatican have played a "significant" role in brokering the deal that normalized relations between the United States and Cuba, says Newsmax Rome correspondent Edward Pentin.
"[Pope Francis has] a great interest in this dispute, but, secondly, his popularity worldwide is giving him a certain amount of weight in foreign affairs and world leaders are listening to him more, arguably more, than they did with his predecessor [Pope] Benedict," Pentin told J.D. Hayworth and Miranda Khan on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV
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In addition, "he's being helped by some very able officials — one of whom is Cardinal Pietro Parolin, his secretary of state, who is very well respected among diplomats and did a lot of the groundwork in this."
"There's a lot of support there for him, and it all came together to achieve this great breakthrough," they added. "Certainly his role has been significant in this."
President Barack Obama said during his announcement Wednesday
that Pope Francis played a vital role in helping to normalize relations between the two countries, beginning with a letter the pope sent to Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro over the summer.
Part of the pope's interest in U.S.-Cuban relations comes from the fact that Pope Francis comes from that part of the world, Pentin explained.
In addition, "his whole approach to foreign affairs and to the world is to build bridges and to help bring people together through dialogue and negotiations, so he saw this as an opportunity to bring that to fruition," he said.
"This has been in the cards for a long time — the Vatican, the church, the bishops of Cuba have wanted this for a long time, and Pope Francis saw this as an opportunity to see that come to fruition," he added
According to the Newsmax Rome correspondent, "when [Fidel] Castro became president there were severe restrictions placed on religious freedom, but those have gradually been lessened and loosened and so relations between the church and the communist government have gotten much better."
"Certain landmarks, of course, happened first of all in 1998 when John Paul II visited Cuba, and then again in 2012 when [Pope] Benedict visited and each of these visits have actually paved the way towards much better relations between the church in Cuba and the government," Pentin explained.
"Also, the government in Cuba has become less hardlined, and that's also helped, of course," he added.
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