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Pope Brings Message of Hope to Central America's Indians - 2002-07-31

In the presence of hundreds of thousands of faithful Catholics, Pope John Paul presided over a lengthy mass, giving Central America its first saint. He delivered a special message to the nation's Indians, a message he will continue on his third and final stop in Mexico Wednesday.

With a cloud capped volcano looming in the background, Pope John Paul canonized 17th Century missionary Brother Pedro, known for healing the ill and educating the poor, especially the Indians. The act took place during a two-and-half hour mass in Guatemala City, the second stop on his three-country Americas tour. The members of the crowd waved flags, prayed, sang and wept.

The pope told the crowd on the bleachers and on the grass of this unused horse race track that he felt close to the indigenous people and hopes that they will over come the difficulties they face.

Guatemala's population is roughly one half Maya Indian and the Maya Indians were the most affected by the violence of this nation's 36-year civil war, in which some 200,000 people, mostly Maya indians were killed.

The war ended with a peace accord in 1996. The pope's support of Indians resonated among the crowd.

Maya Indian Gloria Morales made her way to the capital from provincial Quetzaltenango on Monday. She spent the whole night awake entering the race track at dawn to secure a spot from where she could see the pope. She said the indigenous race is the one that most suffers because it is the most exploited and that they need the pope's support.

The crowd cheers on the pope telling him the whole world loves him. Many say his presence, message of peace and support of the Indians will stay on behind him.