American subcontractor Alan Gross returned home on Wednesday after five years of incarceration in Cuba on smuggling charges -- and many say Pope Francis played a large role in his release.
The Vatican released a statement on Wednesday celebrating the news of Gross' release. The full statement read:
The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.
In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raúl Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two Parties.
The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties.
The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.
In his remarks on Wednesday, President Obama thanked Pope Francis for his support in brokering a deal with Cuba, which included hosting the final negotiation meeting at the Vatican and personally issuing a letter to Cuban President Raúl Castro and Obama urging them to resolve the Gross case. A senior administration official said it was “very rare” to receive such a direct appeal.
In a statement Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski situated the pope's actions in a long line of Catholic peacekeeping efforts, saying:
"Pope Francis did what popes are supposed to do: Build bridges and promote peace. He acted much like his namesake, Francis of Asissi, who during the fifth crusade, went to Egypt to meet with the Sultan al Kamil in the interest of peace."