VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and bishops and Catholics from the region when he visits Mexico and Cuba March 23-28.

He will also deliver a message to the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Cuba.

Vatican Radio released the pope's itinerary as detailed by the Mexican and Cuban bishops' conferences Jan. 2.

Published in International

HAVANA - Cuban President Raul Castro announced his country will free 2,900 political prisoners in the spring, a move he partially attributed to Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit.

In a speech to the National Assembly, Castro said the Council of State had taken into account the papal visit as well as requests from prisoners' family members and top Catholic officials. He also mentioned the 400th anniversary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, patroness of Cuba.

Published in International

MEXICO CITY - A spokesman for the Mexican bishops' conference confirmed details of Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Mexico originally published by the newspaper Reforma, which reported the papal visit would occur March 23-26.

The spokesman, Father Manuel Corral, stressed that details of the visit "are not official," although he said the Pope would only visit the state of Guanajuato and its environs in west-central Mexico. Father Corral said specific details of the visit would likely be made public before the end of the year.

Published in International

WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba in the spring will have multiple layers of meaning for the church and for Cuban society, said a U.S. archbishop who pays close attention to Cuba.

The pope will go there as a symbol of peace and hope, as a pilgrim participating in "a springtime of faith," and as part of the church's efforts at creating the climate for a "soft landing" for the country to come out from under 50 years of communist rule, said Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski in a Dec. 14 interview with Catholic News Service.

Published in Features

HAVANA - The Cuban bishops announced that 2012 would be a Marian jubilee year and that Pope Benedict XVI would come to Cuba as a "pilgrim of La Caridad," the popular name for the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country's patroness.

In a Dec. 8 pastoral letter, they declared a jubilee year from Jan. 7, 2012, through Jan. 6, 2013, and said Cubans need the joy of faith, the strength of Christian love and the light of hope that can come from "a reunion with our Christian roots" and with the "enthusiastic reception of the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Published in International