President Obama, his wife and daughters met with the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega on his first historic visit to the Island nation.
President Obama’s three-day visit to the country will focus on deepening long-neglected commercial ties between the two countries. Cardinal Ortega and Pope Francis played key roles in helping restore relations between United States and Cuba by arranging secret meetings between country officials at the Vatican in 2014.
Obama is the first sitting US president Obama is the first sitting president in nearly 90 years to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge sailed into Havana on a US battleship in 1928 to address the Pan-American Conference.
Speaking to the Holy See’s news service prior to Obama’s visit, Cardinal Ortega said: “This visit to Cuba is very significant. It has a practical importance because it will be of help to the development of the country, for the people”. The Cardinal also said the church will play a key role in the process.
In a speech celebrating the opening of the American Embassy, Obama told Cubans: “So this is a historic visit, and it’s a historic opportunity to engage directly with the Cuban people and to forge new agreements and commercial deals, to build new ties between our two peoples, and for me to lay out my vision for a future that’s brighter than our past.”
US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said: “The Cardinal, along with Pope Francis, was particularly helpful in supporting the agreement on December 17th to normalize relations.”
Adviser Rhodes noted the meeting would “provide the opportunity to mark the important role of the Catholic Church in the lives of the Cuban people, and in the increasing relations between our two countries.”
The 78-year-old Argentine Pontiff traveled to Cuba in September where he prayed for greater freedom for the island’s people. Both President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro have thanked the Holy Father for his behind-the-scenes role in helping along secret negotiations that culminated in the new U.S-Cuba relationship.