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Vatican says Francis will go to Mexico in early 2016, visit Lady of Guadalupe site

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Pope Francis acknowledges faithful as he parades on his way to celebrate Sunday Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday.  (Photo by Matt Rourke-Pool/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis acknowledges faithful as he parades on his way to celebrate Sunday Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. (Photo by Matt Rourke-Pool/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

On the heels of his historic visit to the United States, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will once again cross the Atlantic, this time to visit Mexico.

In response to a question from that country’s Televisa network, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that although exact dates and the pontiff’s full itinerary wouldn't be announced until November, the pope is expected to travel to Mexico City and to make a stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Vatican inidcated that Francis will most likely visit Mexico in the first half of 2016.

The basilica is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Catholics, where a dark-skinned version of Mary is said to have appeared to an indigenous Mexican.

There are an estimated 100 million Catholics in Mexico, constituting more than 80 percent of the population. In the United States, there are 70 million Catholics – or about 22 percent of the population.

The last pontiff to visit Mexico was Francis' predecessor, the retired Pope Benedict XVI, who arrived in March 2012.

Benedict flew over the basilica in a Mexican military helicopter en route to a Mass at Bicentennial Park, where he rode in the popemobile through the enthusiastic crowd.

Often seen as austere and reserved, Benedict charmed the cheering crowd by donning a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero that he wore on his way to the altar at the sun-drenched park.

While many Mexicans said they were surprised by the warmth displayed by Benedict, whose image was more reserved and academic than that of the popular John Paul II, who had been dubbed "Mexico's pope.” 

Like John Paul II, the current pope – the first pontiff to be born in the Americas – has gained admirers the world over and is credited with bringing many people back into the church.

Francis has also spoken strongly for a more human approach to the immigration situation in the U.S., with rumors circulating during his visit here that he would walk into the country from Mexico as a gesture of support. He ended up flying in from Cuba instead.

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