.- Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic voyage to Mexico and Cuba which begins today is a “journey of hope,” according to Vatican press director Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J.
Fr. Lombardi said the visit will provide “hope for Mexicans, a people with immense resources and potential, but currently afflicted by serious problems which weigh on their present and future, first among them the problem of violence.”
In a March 23 editorial, the head of the Holy See's press office also said the trip will bring “hope for Cubans, who feel they are on the threshold of what is potentially a new epoch, in which John Paul II's words on the reciprocal openness of Cuba and the world may be realized in a climate of development, freedom and reconciliation.”
The Pope departed Rome this morning and will arrive in the Mexican city of Leon at 4:30 p.m. local time. He will remain in Mexico until March 26 before traveling to Cuba and then returning to Rome on March 29.
Tomorrow, March 24, Pope Benedict will meet Mexico’s Federal President Felipe Calderon before greeting and blessing children in Leon’s Plaza de la Paz.
The morning of March 25, he will celebrate Sunday Mass in the city’s Parque Bicentenario and later preside at Vespers in the city’s cathedral along with the country’s bishops.
The following day, Pope Benedict will depart for Cuba where he will be welcomed by President Raul Castro. The Pope will then celebrate Mass in the city of Santiago de Cuba to mark the 400th anniversary of the island’s patroness, Our Lady of Charity.
On Tuesday, he will fly to the nation’s capital city of Havana where the Pope will meet with various members of the country’s ruling elite. This is rumored to include former President Fidel Castro, who led the island’s communist revolution in the 1950s.
Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square on Wednesday, March 28 before departing for Rome where he will arrive on March 29.
In his remarks, Fr. Lombardi also noted that the Pope’s visit marks the bicentenary of independence for the people of Latin America.
The Papal pilgrimage shows the desire of the Catholic Church to “continue making her inspirational contribution to the progress of the continent,” he said, “so that human and Christian values may guarantee integral human development, despite the difficulties and dangers of our time.”
This is Pope Benedict's 23rd apostolic visit abroad since being elected pontiff in 2005.