Havana: Pope Benedict XVI will visit Cuba this spring, a senior Roman Catholic Church official said on Thursday.
   
Benedict's trip to the island will be the first by a pope since John Paul II's historic appearance before throngs of Cuban Catholics in 1998 that helped heal decades of tensions between the Vatican and Fidel Castro's Cuba.
   
"It will be a moment for energizing the faith in Cuba. It will give strength and vigor to the faith in Cuba," said Perez Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference, adding that Benedict would announce the date next Monday. "The visit should be one of peace and reconciliation."

Vatican officials have said that the pope also is considering a visit to Mexico, and the day for announcing the schedule for his trip coincides with celebrations of Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe. He visited Brazil in 2007.
   
Benedict, 84, has limited his travels mostly to Europe, both to spare him from long trips and to focus his efforts on a continent where Christianity has fallen by the wayside. He did visit Brazil in 2007 and has said he hopes to return in 2013 for World Youth Day, the church's youth festival. And he has a trip to Benin coming up later this month, his second to Africa in his six-year-pontificate.
   
Cuba and the Vatican never severed ties under Castro, but relations were long strained following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

(Agencies)