Pope Benedict XVI will visit Communist Cuba this spring, a senior Roman Catholic Church official said Thursday.
The trip, which will be the first by a pontiff since Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 1998, will coincide with the 400-year anniversary of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre; it will be announced by Rome early next week, according to Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference.
It will be a moment of energizing the faith in Cuba. It will give strength and vigor to the faith in Cuba, he said. The visit should be one of peace and reconciliation.
Officials said Pope Benedict is also considering visiting Mexico as part of the same trip.
Benedict, 84, has limited his travels mostly to Europe, both to spare him from long trips and to focus his efforts on a continent where Christianity has fallen by the wayside, The Associated Press reported.
During the first papal visit to the island country, Pope John Paul II called on Cuba to open to the world, and the world to open to Cuba while conducting a mass in the famous Revolution Square in the capital of Havana.
The latest developments come after the Cuban government released some 52 dissidents it had agreed to free last July, under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, which has increasingly played a vital role in Cuba. The Church has even consulted with President Raul Castro and his advisers on free-market changes he is pushing to protect the island from falling to economic ruin.
The Church also mediated an agreement between the Cuban authorities and a group of female relatives of imprisoned dissidents, known as the Ladies in White. The negotiations eventually led to the Cuban government agreeing to release the women and allowing them to resume their peaceful Sunday marches in Havana in exchange for the women agreeing not to expand their activities.
Perez said the Pope would meet with members of Castro's government, and may even discuss the economic reforms that are already underway -- measures that enable Cubans to do things like go into business for themselves, take out loans and buy and sell their homes and cars, the AP wrote.
What will be the content of their conversations? It's difficult to foresee. ... The changes that are already under way, which are perhaps too timid in my personal opinion, that is a matter that will probably appear, Perez said. But it's not the purpose of the Holy Father's visit.