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Could Papal message influence Mexico’s presidential election?

March 13, 2012

Preparations are well underway for Pope Benedict XVI’s impending visit to the state of Guanajuato, amid lingering tensions over what exactly the pontiff will say to his devout audience.

“We hope everyone shows respect” during the papal visit of March 23 to 26, the Archdiocese of Mexico said recently, warning “there are areas of society that are opposed to expressions of faith and therefore what the pope might say.”

Raising speculation over the message that Benedict will deliver, the Archdiocese added this week that there are “no issues the Pope cannot touch upon in his religious and social message.”

Yet what the Pope says or does could potentially influence the outcome of the July 1 presidential election, says anthropologist and religious expert Elio Masferrer Kan. The Pope’s influence in Mexico is such that he could affect the decisions of around 15 percent of the electorate – a figure capable of effectively deciding the election – Masferrer claims.

The Catholic Church enjoys the support of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) but has an antagonistic relationship with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) which was responsible for the legalization of gay marriage and abortion in Mexico City.

It will be interesting to see whether the Pope touches on polemic social issues such as these,  but it remains highly unlikely that he would endorse a presidential candidate, for any interference would undermine the separation of church and state, provoking a national outcry.

Yet Catholic interference in Mexican politics would not be entirely unprecedented. Last year WikiLeaks published confidential diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in the Vatican revealing that Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez, the former Archbishop of Guadalajara, asked the United States to intervene on behalf of the church to prevent the election of PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The Archbishop of Leon has assured that the papal visit will “focus on peace and unity among all Mexicans,” with the Pope set to discuss apartisan topics such as peace, poverty and migration in his private meeting with President Felipe Calderon.

“The conversation has to revolve around issues of common interest that may indeed be peace, security, probably the problems of poverty and the situation of migrants in America in general,” said Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago. The meeting will be held on March 24 at the Casa del Conde Rul in Guanajuato’s picturesque Plaza de la Paz.

With 5,486,372 Catholic residents, equivalent to 93.83 percent of its population, Guanajuato is the state with the largest number of adherents to Rome, according to 2010 census figures. Hotels in Leon are fully booked for the duration of the papal visit, while camping is available at a minimum cost of 200 pesos per night.

But excitement for Benedict’s visit has not grown to the frenzy that accompanied his much loved predecessor John Paul II’s five trips to Mexico: in 1979, 1990, 1993, 1999 and 2002.

The standout moment of the papal visit will come when the Pope celebrates Mass before 300,000 people in the Parque Guanajuato Bicentenario on March 25. Beforehand, Benedict will travel through the crowd in the Popemobile for half an hour, allowing those furtherst from the altar to catch a glimpse of him.

Security will be tight. To ensure the Pope’s safety, phones and radio equipment will be blocked at events when he is present, with only official lines for the government, media and security personal functioning. The television and radio signals for over 60 domestic and international media organizations broadcasting the events will not be affected, assure the authorities.

There will even be a human wall flanking the Pope as he moves 100 kilometers around the state throughout his stay. The largest human wall ever assembled for a papal visit will line the 34-kilometer route from the Guanajuato International Airport to the state capital of Leon, breaking the previous record of 22 kilometers.

Working with Guanajuato’s Ministry of Education, the Catholic Church sought 100,000 young volunteers to form the human barrier, but they have now began soliciting adults after falling 20,000 short of said figure.

There are 12,000 free tickets to the Mass available to Catholics in Guadalajara, the local archdiocese announced this week. Those interested are recommended to apply through their parish, with each parish set to receive an allocation of 40 tickets.

Alternatively, to apply personally, send a letter to the priest Daniel Hernandez Rosales at the archdiocese office on Alfredo R. Plascencia 995 in the Chapultepec Country neighborhood.

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