According to White House officials Pope Francis played a instrumental and pivotal role in the historic normalization of relationships recently announced between Cuba and the United States.

In his speech announcing that the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba, President Obama noted that the Holy Father had helped set into motion the historic change and thanked him personally. President Obama credited Francis for his influential “personal plea” and thanked him for his “moral example.”

“In particular, I want to thank his Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”

The Vatican Press office released a statement that noted that the Vatican hosted delegations from both countries in October to negotiate the deal after Pope Francis had personally written to both leaders.

An administration official stated that an appeal from the Pope himself was “very rare” and unprecedented.

“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raul Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States and also encouraging the United States and Cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” said the official. “The Vatican then hosted the US and Cuban delegations where we were able to review the commitments that we are making today.”

As one official noted, the correspondence “gave us greater impetus and momentum for us to move forward.”

According to officials, Pope Francis spoke about about Cuba several times during his meeting with the president in March and that Pope Francis’ clout likely helped bring Castro to the table as well.

Vatican officials were also said to have been present during the negotiations between the United States and Cuba, marking them the only other country to directly participate in the talks. While Canada reportedly hosted the majority of the secret meetings of the two sides, according to a Vatican statement, the pope also hosted Cuban and American representatives together earlier this year when the final deal was struck.

“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.”

On Wednesday, Cuban President Castro also thanked the pope in his address. “I want to thank the support of Pope Francis for the improvement of relations between Cuba and the U.S.”

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