Since ascending to the papacy two years ago, Pope Francis has been quietly and not-so-quietly leaving his mark on the world, pursuing a number of ambitious foreign policy goals. His nine-day trip to Latin America that begins Sunday will be mostly focused on pastoral issues. But from Cuba to Vietnam, the Middle East and environmental decay, here are some of the key dossiers keeping the Vatican's diplomatic corps hard at work:
PUTIN IN PLACE
Despite keeping him waiting for almost an hour, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the Pope at the Vatican on June 10th. Putin is seen as a conduit for dialogue with his close ally Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, with which the Vatican wishes to strengthen ties and mend the age-old schism between the competing branches of Christianity. But Turin newspaper La Stampa reports that Francis also wants to lean on Russia to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis and as a way to help protect the beleaguered Christian population of the Middle East.
Putin and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican on June 10th — Photo: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA
When Cuba and the United States restored diplomatic ties in December, it was seen as a diplomatic coup for respective presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama. But as Spanish daily El País writes, the Pope played a central role in arranging the historic reconciliation through a series of secret meetings. He recently met with President Castro in Rome, where the communist leader declared he would consider rejoining the Catholic faith. Francis is set to visit both Cuba and the United States in September, and further progresson the restoration of ties between the two countries could coincide with the trip.
In May, the Holy See became the 136th country to officially recognize the State of Palestine in a historic bilateral treaty safeguarding Catholic activities in the West Bank. In a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Pope called upon him to be an "angel of peace" and work towards a two-state solution. Le Monde reports that the Pope began laying the groundwork for the treaty in his visit to the Holy Land in 2014.
A Jordanian flag billows behind the Pope in the West Bank — Photo: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA