Mexican Church leaders overjoyed at news of papal visit

.- Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City said that he and other Church leaders in the country are thrilled over Pope Benedict’s plans to travel to Mexico and Cuba in 2012.

“We are very happy that the Pope is coming to Mexico, and we are going to welcome him with great affection, because we all know what the Holy Father means to us,” he told CNA.

During a Mass for Latin America on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Benedict said he would travel to the two countries before Easter of 2012 in order to “proclaim the Word of Christ there and to and convince people that this is the time to evangelize with strong faith, living hope and burning charity.”

Cardinal Rivera said the bishops of Mexico are also happy that the Pope is traveling to the city of Leon in the state of Guanajuato, “a region that is very symbolic in Mexico.” 

Outside the city, a 65-foot statue of “Christ the King of Peace” sits atop Cubilete Hill, where young people gather on pilgrimage each year.

The statue has a long history going back to the Mexican Revolution. It was originally built in 1920, but the government blocked access to the hill in 1923. After Mexicans continued to defy the government and visit the shrine, it was destroyed by dynamite in 1928. Pieces of the original statue, including the head and the Sacred Heart, are preserved in a museum located at the shrine today.

In December of 1944, construction began on the statue that currently sits atop the hill. Pope Pius XII personally sent his blessing for the project.

Bishop Rodrigo Aguilar Martinez of Tehuacan told CNA the decision of which city Benedict XVI would visit was made after ruling out “high-altitude places and places that were already visited by Pope John Paul II.”

The “exact location of his visit has not yet been determined,” he added.

Vatican sources told CNA the Pope is tentatively planning to visit Leon in the state of Guanajuato March 23-26. From there he will travel to Havana, Cuba, on March 26 and return to Rome on March 28.

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