April 17, 2015 / 8:44 AM / 3 years ago

Pope Francis may visit Cuba as add-on to U.S. trip, Vatican says

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis may add a trip to Cuba on to the itinerary of his visit to the United States in September, the Vatican said on Friday, adding that discussions with Cuban authorities were still at an early stage.

Pope Francis speaks during a mass on 100th anniversary of Armenian mass killings in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 12, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

A stop in Cuba during a trip expected to include visits to the White House and Congress as well as the United Nations would underline the role the Vatican has played in helping restore diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington that have been frozen for more than half a century.

Francis is due to visit the United States in late September, celebrating an outdoor mass in Philadelphia and meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

Contacts with Cuban authorities were “still at too early a stage to be able to talk about a firm decision and an operational plan,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Catholics in Cuba generally have greater religious freedom than their counterparts in other Communist states enjoyed, and both of Francis’ predecessors, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II, visited the country during their papacies.

(This story has been refiled to clarify itinerary in headline, first paragraph)

Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by John Stonestreet

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