VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict's trip to Mexico and Cuba March 23-28 will be a relatively brief one, consisting of a little more than two days in each country. Yet his visit is bound to highlight a wide range of prominent issues affecting an entire continent of crucial importance to the Catholic Church.

The Pope arrives in Leon, in central Mexico, late afternoon local time March 23. His first full day's schedule will be light, no doubt reflecting concerns for the health of the pope, who turns 85 April 16. Pope Benedict's flight will have taken him across eight time zones, to a city 6,000 feet above sea level (compared to only 70 in Rome).

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VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church's position on the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba is "no mystery," the Vatican spokesman said, and there's a good chance Pope Benedict XVI will publicly criticize the embargo when he visits Cuba.

At the same time, Pope Benedict also will call for greater freedoms -- particularly religious freedom -- and respect for other human rights during his stay in Cuba March 26-28.

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MEXICO CITY - A strong earthquake shook southern and central regions of Mexico March 20, but it had little impact on the region Pope Benedict XVI will visit.

"Everything is fine here," said Father Jorge Raul Villegas, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Leon, which will host Pope Benedict March 23-26.

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