Pope Francis' image is everywhere - here he is, almost lifesize along the route his motorcade will take to the Zocalo tomorrow. On the far right, you can also see his face on the side of a phone booth.
Readers of this blog know about my longstanding interest in religions and how they intersect with culture and politics, so it may not be a surprise that we timed our visit to Mexico City this year to coincide with visitation of Mexico by Pope Francis. He arrived tonight - in fact, we watched his flight come in from our hotel room - it was unmistakable because all air traffic had ceased for a long time beforehand, and the plane was large. The tv coverage showed his arrival at the Presidential Hangar, greeted by a mariachi band and folkloric dancers, thousands of cheering (handpicked? specially invited?) Mexicans in grandstands, President Pena and his wife (they were both married when they got together, but were granted a special divorce/marriage permission by the Vatican - don't get me started), and phalanxes of Mexican cardinals and governmental ministers.
We attended Obama's inauguration, and have participated in huge political demonstrations in New York City, so I thought I'd seen crowd control and security, but none of that has come anywhere close to what is happening here. Jonathan will be covering the subject in much greater detail on his blog, but here are a few pictures from today; tomorrow we'll try to get close to the actual events and crowds, and see the motorcade as the Pope travels up to the Basilica of Guadalupe to say Mass.
Part of the barricaded motorcade route, the Zocalo in the distance. There are three separate checkpoint zones that people will have to pass before reaching the venues where the pope will be appearing, and there will be 10,000 soldiers in the city in addition to all the city and federal police and civilian volunteers.
These guards gave a big smile for the camera, though.
Yesterday in the late afternoon, we went up to one of the terrace restaurants high above the Zocalo to drink tequila and take some pictures with a bird's-eye view of the preparations for tomorrow's crowd when the Pope goes to the National Palace (on the far side of the square) and the walks over to the Metropolitan Cathedral, on the left. There are big screens that will show live video, and the Zocalo itself is gridded with pens that with contain the crowds in small enough numbers both for security, and to protect the people themselves. The rather tiny light brown structure at middle left, in the roadway, is a temporary grand entrance leading to the cathedral; when we walked by it yesterday, there was a tent containing potted calla lilies to be placed on the stage, and a metal wall that will also be filled with plants to make a green backdrop for the Pope's remarks or blessing, and, of course, for the photo op. We won't try to go there; we'll watch on tv, and try to see his motorcade elsewhere.
As I've said before, I admire this Pope, as popes go, and hope he'll be safe here. In order to make the points he wishes to make, he will be visiting some very dangerous places, and as we've watched these preparations in such a complicated and chaotic city it's been obvious that no amount of planning or force could guarantee his safety here. I can't help but be reminded of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the people who revered him, and the governmental powers who wanted him silenced. So I hope all will go well.