Pope Francis: Unofficial Diplomat between the United States and Latin America

Since becoming Pope, Pope Francis has been celebrated around the world as not only a religious figure, but also an unofficial diplomat. Pope Francis has traveled around the world and given a number of addresses during his time as Pope thus far. Yet, though a religious leader, the Pope’s addresses are never simply religious. Instead, his message has weighed in on a number of political topics, including immigration and US-Cuba relations during his most recent visit to both countries.

Pope Francis just completed his first visit to the United States on Sunday, September 27th. During his five day, three city stop in the US, Pope Francis addressed Congress in a message that was loaded with political considerations. Most notably for Latin American relations, he elegantly reminded the US Congress and citizens that the United States is a nation of immigrants. As a nation of immigrants, Pope Francis urged that “when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.” Pope Francis challenged that attitudes of “hostility” be amended into “reciprocal subsidiarity,” seemingly calling for a better atmosphere of inclusion and welcome for immigrants. The Pope’s message is especially striking in a time of US political elections when so much of the rhetoric has been hostile towards immigrants.  

Immigration is not the only divide that Pope Francis has attempted to make between the people of Latin America and the United States. In fact, Pope Francis was instrumental in unfreezing US relations with Cuba. The Pope served as a mediator between the United States and Cuba in the months leading up to the December 2014 announcement that restarted Cuba-US relations. In the months leading up to the announcement, the Pope sent letters to both President Obama and President Castro, calling on them to reinvigorate US-Cuba diplomacy and relations. Tellingly, the Pope’s visit to the Western Hemisphere was not only a trip to the United States. Instead, Pope Francis began his visit to the United States on September 22 after leaving Cuba. While in Cuba, Pope Francis once again figuratively replaced his papal hat for a political one, mentioning the normalizing of relations and stating “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world." Pope Francis, as an unofficial diplomat, has become a pivotal part of relations between Cuba and the United States.  

During his address to Congress, Pope Francis called upon his shared identity with North America, stating: “ I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.” Too often this shared identity between Latin America and the United States is forgotten, but Pope Francis has been instrumental in reminding both regions that it exists. It will be through this universal recognition of shared identity that will create more positive relations between the southern and northern cones of the western hemisphere, with Pope Francis leading the charge.  


Beckwith, Ryan Teague. “Transcript: Read the Speech Pope Francis Gave to Congress.” Time. Sept. 24, 2015. http://time.com/4048176/pope-francis-us-visit-congress-transcript/

Oppman, Patrick. “Pope Francis Heads to Cuba After Months of Secret Diplomacy.” CNN. Sept. 18, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/18/world/pope-francis-cuba-diplomacy/

Winfield Nicole and Michael Weissenstein. “Pope Francis Urges Obama, Castro To Continue To Build Ties On Cuba Trip.” Talking Points Memo. Sept. 19, 2015. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/world-news/pope-francis-cuba-trip

About Author(s)

Hilary Heath's picture
Hilary Heath
Hilary Heath is a second year candidate for a Master of International Development at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at Pitt where she is studying Human Security. She currently works as a graduate student intern for Panoramas and is obtaining a certificate at the Center for Latin American Studies.