VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican says Pope Benedict is looking
into visiting Cuba and Mexico next spring, traveling to a region where about half of the world's Catholics live and where Pope John Paul II made historic visits during his pontificate.
The announcement marked the first word from the Vatican of a
possible foreign trip for the pontiff next year, and signals that despite his age -- he turns 85 in April -- and increasing frailty, Benedict still intends to travel far to meet the world's Catholics.
Mexico is poised to take Brazil's place as the world's top Catholic nation, although the church is losing members in both countries. The church in Cuba, meanwhile, has taken on a prominent role recently in negotiating the release of jailed dissidents.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, says papal envoys
in Cuba and Mexico have been asked to inform religious and political authorities that Benedict is studying a "concrete project" to visit the two countries. Lombardi says a decision is expected soon.
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