Pope Benedict Mexico Visit Ready Despite Gang Violence

Pope Benedict XVI will make his first visit to Mexico on Friday, causing many to question whether he can capture the hearts of the people as well as his predecessor Pope John Paul did.

Pope Benedict XVI will visit Mexico and Peru to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of a statue of the Virgin of Charity. The statue represents a symbol of nationality for many, even outside the church, bringing it to hold a special place in many of the local's hearts.

Pope John Paul, who passed away in 2005, also held a similar spot of affection and honor.

When John Paul II first visited Mexico in 1979, he knelt to the ground to kiss the Mexican soil. The striking first impression led John Paul II to an esteemed position that some don't believe Pope Benedict XVI will be able to fill. Benedict is viewed as being a far shier than his predecessor, who made his first visit to Mexico only months after his election in 1978.

Benedict has made 22 trips since his election, 15 of them in Europe, only two to Latin America and never to a Spanish-speaking country. The heartbreak of losing John Paul II has created a lack of enthusiasm surrounding Benedict, giving some church officials in Mexico reason for concern.

"From the perspective of faith, all popes are equal and deserve our respect and our loyalty regardless of the charisma they have," Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon told CNNMexico. "We need to say this to everyone so they don't expect to see in Pope Benedict a repeat, or, to put it bluntly, a clone of Pope John Paul."

"When people here say 'the pope,' they mostly think of John Paul," Julio Leyva, a 15-year resident of Leon who works at a hotel, told the L.A. Times. "The church is telling us this pope brings a special light. We'll just have to see."

There has also been some concern raised over the danger that Benedict faces with increased gang violence in Mexico.

The pope "will visit a country that has been praised the world over for its hospitality and the good cheer of its inhabitants," the archdiocese of Mexico said in a published editorial. "But he comes at a moment in which violence has seized entire regions, where that proverbial hospitality has been replaced by hostility from criminal gangs."

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