Pope Benedict XVI will visit Communist-run Cuba this spring, a senior Roman Catholic Church official said Thursday, the first trip here by a pontiff since John Paul II’s historic tour in 1998.

The exact date of the trip, which coincides with the 400th anniversary of Cuba’s patron saint, will be announced in Rome early next week, according to Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference.

“It will be a moment for energizing the faith in Cuba. It will give strength and vigor to the faith in Cuba,” he said. “The visit should be one of peace and reconciliation.”

Cuba’s church has played an increasingly important role in Cuba in recent years, helping negotiate the release of political prisoners in 2009 and 2010 and even consulting with President Raul Castro and his advisers on free-market changes he is pushing to save the island’s economy from ruin.

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