VATICAN CITY (TIP): Pope Francis rightly got credit for helping bring the US and Cuba together and free US government subcontractor Alan Gross. But it was actually Francis’ predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who made the first high-level Vatican manoeuver to release Gross, spurred in part by an unlikely group of papal lobbyists.
The American Jewish Committee was one of several Jewish groups that approached the Vatican in the months before Benedict’s March 2012 visit to Cuba to ask that the German pontiff raise the issue on humanitarian grounds with President Raul Castro, The Associated Press has learned.
“I was told to rest assured that it would be and that it was raised,” the AJC’s Rabbi David Rosen told the AP on Thursday.
An official familiar with the Holy See’s diplomacy confirmed that Benedict did indeed discuss the Gross case with Castro during their March 27, 2012, meeting in Havana. That encounter, followed a day later by a tete-a-tete between Benedict and Fidel Castro, came exactly two years before Francis and President Barack Obama discussed the Gross detention at the Vatican.
Soon thereafter, Francis wrote letters to both Obama and Castro, asking them to resolve the “humanitarian questions of common concern, including the situation of some prisoners,” and offering up the Vatican as a facilitator to seal the deal to restore relations, the Vatican said December 17.
The negotiations were concluded at the Vatican in October in the presence of Francis’ top diplomat, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who until 2013 was the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba’s top ally, Venezuela.
Gross was released Wednesday and returned home to the US in a prisoner swap for three Cubans held as spies, part of an historic decision to normalize diplomatic ties severed during a half-century of Cold War acrimony.