Pope Benedict XVI approved the itinerary for the trip he will make on March 26-28 to Cuba, where he will be received by President Raul Castro, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba, or COCC, said Sunday.
The pontiff will travel from Mexico to the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, 944 kilometers (585 miles) from Havana, on March 26, arriving in the early afternoon and “will be officially received by President Raul Castro Ruz, by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba and by the archbishop of this city,” Dionisio Garcia, the COCC said in a statement.
The program established for his stay on the communist-ruled island was presented to the pope by the officials in charge of his travels after the preparatory meetings they held with Cuban government and COCC authorities during the visit they made to Havana in mid-December.
The 84-year-old Benedict XVI will travel to Mexico and then to Cuba on his second visit to Latin America - he was in Brazil in 2007 - and his first to Spanish-speaking countries in the region.
The pope’s trip will coincide with the celebration on the island of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.
The pontiff will be transported in an open vehicle from the airport to the archbishopric in Santiago de Cuba and on the afternoon of his arrival he will celebrate an open-air Mass on the Plaza de la Revolucion Antonio Maceo for the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the COCC said.
Later, he will travel to the nearby provincial town of El Cobre, where he will be housed in the priests’ residence and the next day he will make a private visit to the sanctuary of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre there to “pray for several minutes” before the saint’s venerated image.
In August 2010, the image of the Virgin of Charity, accompanied by church authorities, began an unprecedented tour of the island, traveling some 30,000 kilometers (18,600 miles) to churches, schools, hospitals, prisons and public squares all over the country, a pilgrimage that concluded last Dec. 30 with a farewell Mass in Havana.
The pope’s visit to Cuba will conclude in Havana, where upon his arrival in the capital at midday on March 27, he will be welcomed at Jose Marti airport by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, auxiliary bishops, religious and civil officials.
On that day, Benedict XVI will officially meet with Castro and also with Cuban Catholic authorities at the Apostolic Nunciature, where he will be staying.
Rounding out his agenda, the pope is scheduled on March 28 to celebrate a Mass on Havana’s emblematic Plaza de la Revolution Jose Marti.
The pontiff’s visit will be the second by a pope to Cuba, after John Paul II’s “historic” 1998 trip to the island.
Official press releases of itinerary
This is the press release from the Vatican concerning the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Mexico and Cuba.
On December 12th, 2011, His Holiness Benedict XVI announced his intention to undertake an apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba, before Easter 2012.
Following consultations with the Government of the United Mexican States and the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, and after detailed study by those responsible for the Pope’s travels, in conjunction with federal authorities and members of the government of Guanajuato state, the Holy Father approved the program that was submitted and will be verified as follows:
The Holy Father will travel on Friday March 23rd, 2012, from the city of Rome to the airport in Leon, Guanajuato, where he will be officially received by the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, by the Archbishop of Leon, José Martín, and by representatives of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.
During his stay in Mexico will be staying at the residence of the Sisters of Miraflores College in Leon.
On Saturday evening, March 24th, The Holy Father will have an official meeting with President Felipe Calderon and his delegation at the Conde Rul House, the seat of the State Government of Guanajuato. Finally the Holy Father will greet and bless children and all the faithful gathered in Guanajuato’s La Paz square.
On the morning of Sunday March 25th, the Holy Father will be preside at Mass in Bicentennial Park in the municipality of Silao, at the foot of Cubilete Hill, atop which stands the monument to Christ the King. Representatives of the faithful of the 91 dioceses of Mexico will be present.
On the afternoon of March 25th, the Holy Father, will celebrate Vespers in the Leon cathedral and deliver a message to all the Bishops of Mexico and other representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean.
On the morning of March 26th, the highest civil and religious authorities of Mexico will farewell the Holy Father at Leon airport, before he departs for Cuba.
And this is the wording of the press release from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba:
Pope Benedict XVI, having been invited by Cuba’s President Raúl Castro and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, has approved the program prepared by organizers of the Papal trip together with Cuban authorities and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Cuba. The program, from March 26th – 28th, 2012, has been fixed as follows:
On March 26th, the Holy Father will travel from Mexico to the City of Santiago de Cuba, where he will be officially received by President Raul Castro, by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba and by the Archbishop of Santiago, Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez. Following the official welcome, in the early hours of the afternoon, the Holy Father will be taken to the residence of Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.
At sunset, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass in Antonio Maceo Revolution Square to mark the Solemnity of the Annunciation. At the conclusion of Mass the Holy Father will head to El Cobre where he will stay in residence for priests.
On the morning of March 27th, the Pope shall make a private visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity to pray for a few minutes before the much-venerated image of the Virgin there. After this, the Pope will go to the airport for a flight from Santiago de Cuba to Havana.
At noon the Pope is scheduled to arrive at the José Martí airport in Havana, where he will be welcomed by Havana’s Archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, by the auxiliary bishops and other religious and civil authorities. The Pope’s conveyance will then proceed to the Vatican embassy where he will stay. In the afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI will visit President Raul Castro for an official meeting. At dusk, the Holy Father will meet in the Nunciature with all the Catholic Bishops of Cuba.
On the morning of March 28th, Pope Benedict XVI will preside at Mass in José Martí Revolution Square. After the celebration, the Pope will return to the Apostolic Nunciature. He will leave from there in the afternoon for José Martì airport where there will be an official farewell ceremony ahead of his departure.