.- Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana voiced anticipation over Pope Benedict XVI’s planned visit to Cuba in March of 2012.
“The Pope’s visit is always a special grace like John Paul II’s was. I am sure Benedict XVI’s visit will be also,” he told CNA after a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 12.
During the Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Benedict announced his intention to visit Cuba and Mexico before Easter of 2012. He said he would travel to both countries “to proclaim the Word of Christ there and to and convince people that this is the time to evangelize with strong faith, living hope and burning charity.”
Pope Benedict will be the second pontiff to visit Cuba after the historic visit by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1998.
The Pope will arrive in Cuba during improving relations between the Castro government and the Church through the mediation of the Spanish government. More than 100 political prisoners were released in 2010 and 2011 and allowed to travel to Spain.
Relations are also improved thanks to a visit in June of 2010 by the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
While the process for releasing the political prisoners was met with some criticism by Cuban dissidents, many analysts consider the move to be a positive signal.
“I am very happy that the Pope is coming to Cuba, and we are waiting for him,” Cardinal Ortega told CNA. Vatican sources say the Pope will tentatively travel to Cuba March 26-28 and then return to Rome.