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Pope plans Guatemala visit

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican announced extensive summer travel plans for Pope John Paul II that will take the frail pontiff from Canada to Mexico and on to Guatemala on a saint-making mission.

The announcement Tuesday came as John Paul set the dates for nine canonizations, two to be carried out in North and Central America.

John Paul, who turns 82 in May and has shown increasing trouble with mobility, had long planned to visit Toronto in July to mark the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day.

Last month, the Vatican added a stop in Mexico so the pope could raise to sainthood Juan Diego, an Indian who is said to have had a vision of an olive-skinned Virgin Mary on Dec. 12, 1531, while standing on the site of an Aztec shrine.

The trip has now been extended to Guatemala for the canonization of Pedro de Betancur, a 17th-century missionary known as the "St. Francis of the Americas."

Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo told a news conference in Guatemala City that the "beautiful news of the visit of our Holy Father John Paul II to our beloved Guatemala has filled our hearts with happiness and joy. The Holy Father has been generous, and his visit is a blessing to Guatemala."

John Paul will be in Canada July 23-28, in Mexico City on July 29-31 and in Guatemala July 31-Aug. 1, the Vatican said.

The trip will be John Paul's fifth to Mexico and third to Guatemala.

Mexicans have always turned out in huge numbers for John Paul, and this trip will be no exception.

Church officials said Tuesday that the canonization of Juan Diego would be held on a 2,500-acre site on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Monsignor Onesimo Cepeda, bishop of Ecatepec, near Juan Diego's home, said the area would accommodate the 5 million people expected for the Mass. "And if 6 million come, then 6 million," he said.

The other canonizations will he held at the Vatican, with two in particular expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people: June 16 for Padre Pio, an Italian monk with a worldwide following, and Oct. 6 for Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the Spaniard who founded Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organization.

During his 23-year-papacy, John Paul has beatified 1,267 people and elevated 456 people to sainthood, part of his effort to give Catholics many role models. In comparison, over the previous four centuries, 1,310 candidates were beatified and 300 raised to sainthood.

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