Pope Francis is being widely credited for helping to restore diplomatic and economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, but much of the groundwork was achieved through Vatican officials and, most notably, the Pope’s deputy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
President Barack Obama announced yesterday a re-establishment of diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba after more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican.
An informed source close to the talks told Newsmax Dec. 18 that the contribution of Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, was “definitely significant” and that as a highly respected Vatican official among Rome diplomats, he had built up a “very good relationship” with Secretary of State John Kerry.
The source said Parolin and Kerry, who met at the Vatican as recently as Monday, have “spoken often” over the past year. They spent an hour discussing a wide range of foreign policy issues including Cuba, although developments were kept strictly secret until Wednesday. The two secretaries of state had their first, more lengthy meeting, in January this year.
U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, told reporters Dec. 17 that "a senior Vatican official" played “an important part” in a historic meeting in October when the American and Cuban delegations “helped bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.” He didn’t name Parolin, although the Italian diplomat is widely believed to have been that senior official.
As the Vatican’s “deputy foreign minister’ from 2002 to 2009, Parolin scored some significant breakthroughs such as cementing ties between the Holy See and Vietnam, re-establishing direct contact with Beijing in 2005, and helping secure the liberation of 15 British navy personnel captured by Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf in April 2007.
He also worked to resolve tensions in a variety of trouble spots such as in East Timor and between Ecuador and Peru over rights to the Amazonian territories along their disputed borders. When Francis appointed him secretary of state last year, he received wide acclaim from Rome’s diplomatic corps. “He’s so highly respected,” said one diplomat. “He’s such a good person, such a good listener.”
Parolin himself, however, prefers to credit Pope Francis as the main mover in re-establishing diplomatic ties. Speaking to Vatican Radio Thursday, he stressed the role of the Pope was “very significant” and that the achievement reflects the pontiff’s emphasis on building bridges between persons, groups, and nations. The Holy See’s role, he said, was to “facilitate the dialogue between the two parties” according to Francis’ objectives.
Rome diplomats have been working overtime since Francis’ election, largely because they say his popularity is forcing world leaders to pay more attention to what he and the Holy See say on the world stage. For some time, officials have predicted Francis would take a leading role in mediating international disputes, but until now, successes have been few, despite concerted papal efforts to broker peace in trouble spots such as the Holy Land and the Korean Peninsula.
Parolin acknowledged in his interview with Vatican Radio that “not everybody agrees” with the decision announced Wednesday, but he wished to stress the “courage” it took for both presidents to make the historic move. Thanking God for inspiring “such good sentiments and intentions” in the two leaders, he said he hoped this example could be emulated by other regional leaders to overcome differences and conflict through “negotiation and through dialogue.”
Formal U.S.-Cuba relations were cut and a trade embargo imposed in the early 1960s after Cuba's revolution led to communism. But despite President Fidel Castro then imposing strict restrictions on religious freedom, the Holy See never broke diplomatic ties with Cuba — the only communist country with which the Holy See has maintained unbroken, formal relations.
This factor is also said to have enabled the Vatican to act as an effective mediator. The contribution of Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, is also being mentioned as significant.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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