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July 30, 2002
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Pilgrims from all over Mexico turned out on Tuesday to give Pope John Paul II a rousing welcome in the capital Mexico City at the beginning of a three-day visit to the country. In an emotional welcoming ceremony, the 82-year-old pope was received at the airport by President Vicente Fox and 32 children – one for each Mexican state – dressed in traditional clothing.

As he disembarked from his plane, a 2,600-strong crowd sang songs celebrating John Paul’s other four visits to the country. Confetti filled the air and a giant Mexican flag created with coloured lights on a white sheet was illuminated.

“Mexico is ever faithful,” the pontiff said to thunderous applause, repeating a phrase that he used on his first visit to Mexico in 1979 and which became a rallying cry for Mexican Catholics after decades of anti-clerical rule. Some 90 per cent of Mexico’s 100 million people are Catholic, and the country appears to have a special charm for the Polish pope.

Out of respect, John Paul, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and crippling arthritis, motioned an aide to help him to his feet as a band played Mexico’s national anthem. President Fox had tears in his eyes as he paid tribute to the pontiff at the ceremony.

“We Mexicans feel very honoured to receive you yet again in this Mexico that loves, respects and admires you,” he said. “Your deeds and words over more than two decades have inspired legions of Mexican children, youths and adults.”

In addition to the multitude at the airport, tens of thousands of people – many holding rosaries and moved to tears – lined the 12-mile route to the Vatican envoy’s residence where the pope is staying. As he made his way there in the popemobile, the crowd chanted: “The whole world loves you.”

The highlight of the visit will be the canonization on Wednesday of Juan Diego, an Indian peasant whose repeated vision of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary became key to the mass conversion of Mexicans to the church of their Spanish conquerors. The apparition – which has since become one of the nation’s cultural and national symbols – is known as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The three-day visit to Mexico is the final leg of an 11-day tour that has taken John Paul to Canada and Guatemala.

Photo: ©

President Vicente Fox had tears in his eyes as he welcomed the Pope to his country. “We Mexicans feel very honoured to receive you yet again in this Mexico that loves, respects and admires you,” he told the pontiff

Photo: © AFP

Photo: ©

As well as President Fox, the Pope was received by 32 children - one from each of Mexico's states - dressed in traditional clothing

Photo: © AFP

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