December 12th, 2011
03:59 PM ET
By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
(CNN)- Pope Benedict XVI confirmed plans Monday to visit Mexico and Cuba before Easter.
"I have the intention to undertake an apostolic voyage to Mexico and Cuba before Easter, to proclaim there the word of Christ and affirm the conviction that this is a precious time to evangelize with a steady faith, a living hope and an ardent charity," the pontiff said, speaking Spanish in a Vatican homily honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The announcement drew applause from throngs of worshipers at St. Peter's Basilica.
Roman Catholic Church officials in Cuba and Mexico have spoken since November about a possible papal visit, but Monday's remarks were the first public comments the pope has made about his plans.
Monday's Vatican Mass honored the virgin of Guadalupe, one of the most revered figures of Roman Catholicism in Mexico.
According to the Catholic faith, this year marks the 480th anniversary of the virgin's appearance on Tepeyac Hill, on the outskirts of what is now Mexico City.
Millions of pilgrims flock to the Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Mexico City every year for the celebration honoring her, which culminates December 12.
In his homily Monday, the pope said that many Latin American countries were celebrating the bicentennials of their independence and noted that they were playing an increasingly important role on the world stage.
He referred to Latin American and Caribbean bishops' 2007 announcement of a "continental mission" to spread the Gospel in the region.
"From my responsibility to confirm the faith, I also want to encourage apostolic zeal," he said.
CNN's Hada Messia, Krupskaia Alis, and Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report
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