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Pilgrim Pope: Pope Benedict XVI to Visit Cuba, Perhaps Mexico in 2012

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 11th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Communist-run island of Cuba in spring of 2012. It will be the first trip to Cuba by a pontiff since John Paul II's historic tour in 1998. The exact date of the trip, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre will be announced in Rome next week.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "It will be a moment for energizing the faith in Cuba. It will give strength and vigor to the faith in Cuba," Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference said. "The visit should be one of peace and reconciliation."

Perez said the pontiff had "a special affection toward the people of Cuba for the social conditions in our country."

The Catholic Church has played an increasingly important part in Cuba in recent years, helping negotiate the release of political prisoners in 2009 and 2010. The church has also consulted with Cuban President Raul Castro and his advisers on free-market changes he is implementing in the nation.

The pope also is also considering a visit to Mexico, and the December 12 date for announcing the schedule for his trip coincides with celebrations of Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Benedict has chiefly limited his travels to mostly Europe, although he did visit Brazil in 2007 and has said he hopes to return in 2013 for World Youth Day, the church's youth festival. Benedict also he has a trip to Benin coming up later this month, his second to Africa in his six-year-pontificate.

After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro increased anti-clerical actions across the nation. Authorities discouraged Christmas celebrations, closed religious schools in 1962 and barred Communist Party membership to people of religious belief.

After the Cold War, Cuba removed references to atheism from the constitution in the 1990s and allowed believers of all faiths to join the party.

When Pope John Paul visited in 1998, Castro shed his trademark olive-green fatigues for a business suit and tie and to greet the pope personally at the airport.

On the eve of the visit, Cuba's Catholic bishops on Thursday issued a call for rapprochement and reconciliation among Cubans during the coming year. A Cuban Church leader says that the pope would meet government officials during his visit.

"Reunion and reconciliation among Cubans should be one fruit of the Jubilee Year as a result, in each one of us, of a change in mentality and attitude toward our neighbor," the bishop's conference said in a statement.

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