HOLGUIN, Cuba - A pope's visit is always a blessing, but there is something special about this one, say some residents in the city of Holguin, Cuba's fourth largest city, as they prepare not just for Pope Francis' arrival to the island but also to their city.

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HAVANA - Pope Francis began his visit to Cuba praying for greater freedom for the island's people and calling on U.S. and Cuban politicians to continue moving toward fully normal and neighborly relations.

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SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States comes as people and politicians in both countries increasingly support ending an economic embargo that has been in place for more than five decades.

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One nation under God will have five days this month to consider its unity and its divisions, its aspirations and its relationship with God as Pope Francis comes to challenge, console, cajole and confound 325 million Americans.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis asked for prayers for his trip to Cuba and the United States, calling it "a mission" he had high hopes for.

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Pope Francis' visit to Cuba is a sign of his closeness to the nation's people at a time they "breathe the air of hope" that relations with the United States will improve, said Bishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez of Guantanamo-Baracoa.

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WASHINGTON - Ever since Pope Francis' visit to Cuba was announced, Cuban church officials have billed him as the "missionary of mercy."

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VATICAN CITY - Representatives of Colombia's largest guerrilla movement have asked to meet Pope Francis in Cuba in September and have requested the Catholic Church name a permanent delegate to their peace negotiations with the government.

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HAVANA - With Havana Harbor's bright blue waters and a trio of vintage U.S. cars parked along the Malecon framing the scene, Secretary of State John Kerry officially reopened the U.S. Embassy in Cuba Aug. 14, marking the end of more than 54 years of fractured diplomatic relations.

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VATICAN CITY - The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See believes Pope Francis is not traveling to the United States in September to scold anyone, but to challenge the country's people to live up to their ideals.

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VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has banned an Italian journalist from the papal plane during Pope Francis’ trip to the United States as punishment for his newspaper’s role in breaching the embargo on the pontiff’s hotly anticipated encyclical.

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The Vatican has released details of Pope Francis’ itinerary for his Sept. 22-27 United States visit, his first, and it shows how this “pope of the people” wants to avoid becoming a prisoner of the East Coast “power corridor” during his five days in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

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VATICAN CITY - In word and deed, Pope Francis will take his vision of a Catholic's approach to family life, parish life, charity, economics, immigration and good governance to Cuba and the United States during a Sept. 19-27 visit.

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On June 30, the Vatican released details of Pope Francis’ itinerary for his Sept. 22-27 visit to the United States, his first to this country.

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VATICAN CITY - Cubans are waiting for Pope Francis "with open arms," said Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana.

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