Mexican worshippers underwhelmed by papal visit

December 13, 2011 - 6:16 PM
Mexico Virgin of Guadalupe

Pilgrims carry images of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Monday Dec. 12, 2011. Thousands of people from all over the country converge on the basilica bringing images to be blessed on her feast day. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — In a country at least nominally 90 percent Catholic, you would think the news of another papal visit would be met with jubilation.

It's not that the millions of faithful in Mexico aren't happy about Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit, expected before Easter next year.

It's just that they can't drum up the same kind of emotion they had for his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, a man so beloved that the Vatican was presenting his relics, a vial of blood and a wax likeness, in more than 100 locations throughout the country.

John Paul visited Mexico five times, drawing millions of worshippers each time. The Latin American nation has the second-highest number of Catholics in the world behind Brazil, and was John Paul's third-most-visited country after Poland and France.

The pope spoke Spanish when he came here, endearing him even more to Mexicans who still buy up large quantities of photo frames, stamps, rosaries and mugs bearing his name and image. The pope died in 2005 at the age of 84. In May he was beatified, the last formal step before possible sainthood.

There are no Benedict-related items for sale here.

"That Holiness is not very commercial," explained Jorge Sanchez, a 30-year-old vendor.

Benedict confirmed his travel plans Monday during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica honoring Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Dec. 12 is one of Mexico's most important religious holidays, when millions make the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to honor the dark-skinned virgin who is said to have appeared to an Indian peasant on Dec. 12, 1531.

City officials estimate 5.8illion people from across Mexico visited the basilica over the four pilgrimage days through Monday, many of them carrying large frames, wooden sculptures and ceramic statues of the virgin on their backs. Police keep the crowds moving and don't allow anyone to linger.

Many of those who had traveled for days on foot or cycled along highways as a sacrifice applauded when the basilica's vicar, Monsignor Enrique Glennie Graue, told them Benedict was coming to Mexico.

"His visit shows that he loves Mexico, and in return, Mexico will love him as much as it loved John Paul II," said Socorro Avendano, 23, accompanied by her husband and 5-month-old daughter. "But we have to see him. We have to see his devotion to Mexico."

As mariachis played and Indian dancers with feathered headdresses jingled their ankle bells, crowds lined up outside the basilica Monday just to get a glimpse of the cloak upon whose cloth it is said the virgin's image appeared.

It remained to be seen if Pope Benedict will generate as much enthusiasm.

Gabriel Ramirez, a 22-year-old baker, traveled 10 hours on a bus from the southern state of Oaxaca with his wife and 10-month-old daughter to visit the virgin.

But he said it was unlikely he would repeat the trip to see the pope.

"I don't think I would come because it is too far," he said.

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