Pope Francis is clearly making a name for himself as a world-historical figure. He has gained great respect for his efforts to reform the Catholic Church internally -- by cleaning up the Vatican Bank, by restructuring the Curia, by opening up debates over divorced and gay Catholics. These accomplishments alone are significant. He is changing the direction of the Catholic Church from a self-enclosed shell fearful of the world and towards a confident Church not afraid of arguing with itself.
But just as profoundly, he is beginning to reshape the world. This is the clear impact of the role Pope Francis has apparently played in the thawing of U.S. -- Cuban relations.
The news is still breaking as I write this, but it seems that Pope Francis began efforts last March to draw the United States and Cuba into dialogue. He raised the issue when he met with President Barack Obama that month. He followed up on this conversation over the summer by writing personal letters both to President Obama and to President Raul Castro of Cuba. We do not know the contents of these letters, but we do know that the impact made on both men must have been significant.
Pope Francis is not the first modern Pope to play an important role on the world stage. In the early 1960s, John XXIII was instrumental in reconciling Jews and Catholics and was honored by the Israeli Knesset at the time of his canonization for his accomplishments. Pope Paul VI famously addressed the United Nations in 1965 -- the first Pope to have done so. "War never again!" he exclaimed, fearful of the carnage thermonuclear conflict would cause. And John Paul II is, of course, highly regarded for his role in ending the Cold War.
What else could Pope Francis and his obviously talented and energetic Scretary of State, Pietro Parolin be contemplating? I suspect we might see, within a few months, a major breakthrough between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government. And, who knows, Pope Francis might even help to thaw the very frosty relations that presently prevail between the United States and Iran! Now, that might be dreaming, but we are allowed to dream.