In which we are visited by Papa Francisco…

His face is on every billboard and lamp post. We see him on t-shirts and bumper stickers. We’ve gotten mail from the gas company and the water company telling us how excited they are that he’s coming. The hotel around the corner put up a billboard advertising itself as his local headquarters (it’s not…he’ll only be here a few hours). Who is this celebrity that is coming to town? Perhaps a politician or movie star? Maybe a musician, or soccer player? Maybe the President of the Republic? Alas, all of these are dim candles when viewed next to the megawatt starpower of our actual visitor.

The Pope himself is coming to Juárez tomorrow, and it is difficult to believe that there are places in the world where this is not headline news. We have heard rumors of the passing of a Supreme Court Justice (actually very close to where we travelled in the fall), and whisperings of a Presidential election North of the border, but this is all of minor importance when considered alongside the imminent arrival of the Pontiff.

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The local news stations on both sides of the border have been counting down the days for weeks if not months. The city will be shut down tomorrow. I doubt a single kid will go to school this whole week. Roads will be blocked to facilitate the procession. Estimates are that two million people will come to town, more than doubling the population. He’ll visit a prison and a college, and say mass at a stadium that is right on the border, within a stone’s throw of the U.S.

It’s an exciting moment for Juárez. This seems to be the first time that a Pope has visited the border. It says a lot about how far Juárez has come in recent years, and gives our neigbors (Mexico is 80%+ Catholic) something to be genuinely proud and excited about. It also says a lot about this Pope’s willingness to draw attention to complicated issues that effect the lives of real people, like immigration and the drug trade, that the Church really ought to be discussing.

As for us, we have a fridge full of groceries and intend to ride out the influx of people (and lines, and traffic) the way that smart midwesterners are taught to deal with snowstorms: at home, relaxed, enjoying it all by way of television.

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