VATICAN CITY, NOV. 10, 2011 ( The director of the Vatican press office says Benedict XVI is studying the possibility of a trip to Mexico and Cuba in the spring of 2012.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi announced today that the nuncios in Mexico and Cuba have been instructed to inform the highest civil and religious authorities that the Pope is examining concrete plans to visit those states, in response to invitations he has received.

The spokesman said plans will be finalized in the coming weeks, and the Holy Father will make his final decision. But since the trip would take place in spring of 2012, "the times for a final decision on the program and for the preparations are rather short," Father Lombardi noted.

He said that Mexicans' desire for a papal visit is well-known. "The Pope is aware of this and is happy to be able to respond," the Jesuit said. "He has been to Brazil but the Spanish speaking countries of Latin America, of which Mexico has the largest population, wished for a visit of their own."

"Cuba also has great desire to see the Pope, having never forgotten the historic visit of John Paul II," the spokesman added. "The Church and the people are experiencing a particularly important moment in their history, and the Pope's visit will be a great encouragement."

Father Lombardi said the geographical proximity of Mexico and Cuba made it logical to combine the two nations into one "necessarily long" journey. At the same time, "any trip would not have many stages, but just a few [stops] of great symbolic and pastoral importance," he said. "Another factor to be taken into account is that of the altitude, which would make it unadvisable for the Holy Father to visit Mexico City. One of the questions to be examined immediately, then, is that of better alternatives.

"Following the Aparecida, [Brazil], Conference that the Pope attended four years ago, Latin America is committed to a great continental mission of evangelization. The Pope will have the opportunity to encourage the entire Church in this great task, also in view of preparations for the celebration of the Year of Faith."