.- Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit both Mexico and Cuba in the spring of 2012.
“The nuncios in Mexico and Cuba have been instructed to inform the highest civil and religious authorities that the Pope is examining concrete plans to visit those states, in response to invitations he has received,” papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said on Nov 10.
Fr. Lombardi said it is “well-known that expectations among people in Mexico are high,” while “Cuba also has great desire to see the Pope, having never forgotten the historic visit of John Paul II,” back in 1998.
This would be Pope Benedict’s first visit to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, but it would not be his first trip to South America. He visited Brazil in 2007 and hopes to return there for World Youth Day in 2013.
Mexico “wished for a visit of their own,” explained Fr. Lombardi, adding that it’s something the Pope is well aware of “and is happy to be able to respond.”
Meanwhile, relations between the Catholic Church and the communist regime in Cuba have steadily improved since Pope John Paul’s visit 13 years ago. This has increasingly been the case under the somewhat less authoritarian rule of President Raúl Castro – the brother of the country’s former leader Fidel – who came to power in 2006.
Fr. Lombardi highlighted this “particularly important moment” in Cuba’s history and said that “the Pope’s visit will be a great encouragement,” especially for its people, who will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery the statue of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre. The Marian statue was found four centuries ago by three young boys after a storm in the Bay of Nipe, which is on the southeastern shores of the island. She is now Cuba’s patroness.
Given the proximity of both countries, Fr. Lombardi said “it would seem more logical to visit these two countries in a single, though necessarily long journey.” The itinerary being considered “would not have many stages” but would instead focus on a few stops that would carry “great symbolic and pastoral importance.”
The overarching reason given for the visit is the continuation of the “great continental mission of evangelization,” that was launched at the 2007 gathering of Latin American and Carribean bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, as well as to assist “preparations for the celebration of the Year of Faith,” which begins in October 2012.