Vatican says pope to visit Cuba in September

Pope Francis played a role in the diplomatic thaw between the US and Cuba (AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte) (AFP/File)

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis, who played a key role in the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, will visit Cuba in September after a scheduled visit to the US, the Vatican confirmed on Wednesday.

His visit to the communist-ruled island which is home to many Roman Catholics will be the third by a pope after Jean Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

The Holy See has said that the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff had personally mediated between the United States and Cuba, with the Vatican hosting delegations from the two countries in October.

Secret negotiations then led to the surprise announcement in December 2014 that Washington and Havana would seek to restore diplomatic ties.

"The presence of His Holiness in Cuba will be memorable," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said while on a visit to Brussels.

The pontiff "will receive the warm hospitality of the Cuban people", Rodriguez said, while he expressed Cuba's "pride... to have a Latin American pope."

The Cuban Catholic Church was also overjoyed.

"It's great news. We have plenty of reasons to be very happy," said Orlando Marquez, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Havana.

"The country is going through a very special moment since the presidents of Cuba and the United States announced their bid to re-establish diplomatic relations, and both of them thanked Pope Francis for encouraging this process," Marquez told AFP.

"Cuba and the Cubans are very grateful," he added.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the United States in late September, where he will take part in a Catholic Church congress in Philadelphia.

During the trip, he is also scheduled to speak before the United Nations in New York, become the first pontiff to address the US Congress. He will also meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House.