How Mexico is getting ready for the pope

How Mexico is getting ready for the pope March 19, 2012

What does it take to prepare for a papal visit?  More than you may think:

One hundred fifty-thousand communion wafers? Check.

Campsites for 350,000? Check.

Three hand-embroidered papal souvenir sombreros? Check.

Official song? Check.

It takes a lot to prepare for the coming of the pope and the 3 million people the host Archdiocese of Leon says he is expected to draw. Facades must be spiffed; campgrounds must be sprayed for dengue-bearing mosquitoes.

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI, his first to Spanish-speaking Latin America, begins in just a week in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato, where he will spend three days and give an outdoor Mass for some 300,000 people before heading to Cuba on March 26.

In the Bicentennial Park in nearby Silao, hammers and heavy equipment pound out the contours of a massive stage large enough for a Madonna concert. The religious order of the Capuchin Poor Clares in San Isidro is making 150,000 Frisbee-sized hosts for the Mass, though it won’t require vats of wine. While the masses eat bread, only the officiates will sip a mere 2.5 gallons (10 liters) of consecrated wine on stage.

Maria de la Luz Yepez of nearby San Francisco del Rincon is overseeing the stitching and stretching of faux suede and velvet on three artisanal sombreros that will be given to Benedict. Each took three weeks to decorate by hand. One has an embroidered face of Benedict inside the cap and features a map of Mexico on the brim. Another shows the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.

She said the whole community, a suburb home to tennis shoe factories and makers of the black, spangled sombreros sold in airports and tourist stalls, wants to chip in.

“Even to make the boxes to pack the sombreros,” said Yepez, whose 55-year-old family business, Sombreros Salazar Yepez, made the signature Mexican hats for popes Paul VI and John Paul II as well. “They want the sombrero to carry a little bit of everyone here in San Francisco.”

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