While outlining America's rapprochement with Cuba, the President took note of Francis’ diplomatic prowess.
As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.” These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba.
Francis has been credited with playing a “pivotal role” in re-opening diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, and with negotiating the release of the imprisoned American Alan Gross, who was a guest of the president during the State of the Union address.
The pontiff personally sent letters to both Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro last summer, The Guardian reports, while the Vatican hosted talks between the two countries. During a December audience with newly-appointed ambassadors to the Holy See, Francis emphasized that diplomacy is meant to bring people together.
Speaking off script, the pontiff told the new ambassadors:
I greet you and wish your work to be fruitful, to be fertile. The work of an ambassador lies in small steps, small things, but they always end up making peace, bringing closer the hearts of people, sowing brotherhood among peoples. This is your job, but with little things, tiny things. Today we are all happy because we have seen how two peoples, distanced for so many years, made a step nearer one another yesterday. That was brought about by ambassadors, by diplomacy. Your job is noble work, very noble.
Pope Francis is slated to address a Joint Session of Congress during his trip to the United States in September, according to Mashable.
The Holy See has long been a player in global diplomacy. John T. Woolley, co-director of the American Presidency Project, told HuffPost that past presidents have made references to the papacy in their official records.
There are over 400 "references to the pope in documents, orders, letters, statements, etc dating back to at least 1827," Woolley wrote in an email.
Still, it’s not very often that the papacy gets a mention during a State of the Union address. The word “Pope” was mentioned two other times in the project's database.
On January 17, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson told America that he had just returned from a “very fruitful visit” with then Pope Paul VI. The Pope had apparently urged Johnson to bring the Vietnam War to an end.
President Bill Clinton also mentioned the papacy during a State of the Union address on January 27, 2000. Then Pope John Paul II and other religious leaders had asked Clinton to fight global poverty by reducing the debts of the world’s poorest countries.