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Americas Why the pope wants stronger ties with Mexico and Cuba

While the Catholic church is bolstering the faithful in Mexico and Cuba, it is also seeking closer ties with national governments during Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to these countries.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

On Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of Lent in the Roman Catholic calendar, the basilica was full in this central Mexican town where 94 percent of residents are Catholic. The priest placed ashes on the foreheads of a continuous stream of congregants: elderly women, schoolgirls in uniform, construction workers, and men in suits – including one struggling to juggle his benediction and his dry cleaning.

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