Pope Francis celebrates his 78th birthday today in St. Peter’s Square ahead of Cuba’s release of ailing American prisoner, Alan Gross.
According to the Vatican, Pope Francis helped broker a deal between the US and Cuba which resulted “in solutions acceptable to both parties.” The Holy Father even hosted a discussion between the two nations at the Vatican, according to an Obama official.
“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raul Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States, and also encouraging the United States and Cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” an official reportedly told TIME.
The ‘very rare Papal letter’ encouraged both delegations, who have not had diplomatic relations since Fidel Castro’s rise in 1961, to negotiate a deal.
The US has maintained a trade embargo on Cuba for more than 50 years.
Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, congratulated both administrations on their agreement and offered support on the new-found bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, the highly popular pontiff met with visitors in St. Peter’s Square, blew out the candles on his birthday cake, and sipped on the traditional Argentinean drink of mate.
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