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Pope Francis to Visit Cuba Ahead of U.S. Visit in September

Pope Francis will visit Cuba before his trip to the United States in September, the Vatican announced on Wednesday.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, confirmed that Francis had "received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba" and "decided to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States."

The last pontiff to visit communist Cuba was Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict.

The Vatican has been credited with playing a crucial role in helping restore relations between Havana and Washington. President Barack Obama earlier this year announced a series of measures to end decades of deadlock.

Obama met with the pope in March, when the president said Cuba was discussed, according to the Vatican. The pope had written letters to Obama and Castro on resolving humanitarian issues, including that of Alan Gross, who was working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was detained in Cuba in 2009.

The Vatican announced earlier this year that he would be visiting New York, Philadelphia and Washington, where he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House. He will also address a joint session of Congress on September 24, according to House Speaker John Boehner. The pope will address the United Nations while in New York.

FROM FEB. 6, 2015: Pope Francis planning September trip to US 0:55
FROM DEC. 18, 2014: Pope Francis Hails Cuban Accord as Diplomatic Triumph 0:41

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— F. Brinley Bruton