Cuban Catholics Anxious, Excited for Pope's Visit

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Pope Benedict XVI continued his pilgrimage to Latin America on Monday with a visit to Cuba, marking the first papal visit to the communist country in 14 years.

The pope spent the weekend in Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of people came out to see and hear him. He donned a sombrero, was serenaded by mariachi bands, and was embraced by Mexicans who called him their brother.

"I've made a lot of trips, but I've never been welcomed with such enthusiasm," Benedict told a wildly cheering crowd who greeted him late Sunday.

"Now I can understand why Pope John Paul II used to say, 'I feel like I'm a Mexican pope,'" he said.

The pope also spoke out against communism prior to his arrival in Santiago, Cuba, his first stop in the least Catholic country in all of Latin America.

"I hope that after this visit the Cuban people have more faith," an emotional Mayra Corona, 63, told The Associated Press.

"Benedict will bring "peace, tranquility, forgiveness," she said.

On Monday evening, the pope will celebrate an open-air mass in Santiago's main plaza and then pray at the sanctuary housing the statue of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, dedicated to Cuba's patron saint, before heading to Havana.

He will meet privately with Cuban president Raul Castro, the brother of Fidel Castro.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II asked Fidel Castro to open Cuba to the world.

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