Pope John Paul the Second has begun a two-day visit to Mexico, the last stop of a three-nation pilgrimage to the Americas. A visibly tired Pope John Paul II received a hero's welcome upon arrival in Mexico City late Tuesday for his fifth and what many fear may be his last visit to the overwhelmingly Catholic nation.
Speaking at a packed airport hangar, where he was received by President Vicente Fox and a throng of civil and religious dignitaries, the 82-year-old pontiff called on Mexicans to commit to building a nation of honor and progress. To heartfelt cheers, he praised them for their religious fervor, saying "Mexico: always faithful."
Afterwards, the Pope was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people who lined Mexico City's streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff as he passed in his "Pope-mobile" en route to the papal nuncio.
One woman said she and her friends had been waiting all day to welcome the Pope and show their love for him. Another woman said she was prepared to withstand sun, rain or any form of tempest, if necessary, to see John Paul in person.
Later Wednesday, the Pope will elevate to sainthood a native Indian, Juan Diego, who is believed to have played a critical role in furthering Catholicism among Mexico's indigenous people in the 1500's. Juan Diego is said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary on the outskirts of what is today Mexico City. When he went to tell a Spanish bishop of the apparition, an image of Mary, known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is said to have miraculously appeared on his cloak. Juan Diego is the first native Indian to be canonized by the Catholic Church.
Thursday, the pontiff is to beatify two native Indians who worked to stamp out indigenous religious practices and were killed by angry villagers in the year 1700.
For weeks, Mexico has been consumed by frenzied anticipation of the Pope's arrival. National television networks have dueled each other, each promising to provide the most exhaustive, second-by-second coverage of the papal visit.
Meanwhile, Mexico's national lottery held a special Papal drawing in which tickets purchased bore John Paul's image.