U.S.-Mexico border prepares for Pope’s visit

Cities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are preparing for Pope Francis’ visit to the Mexican city of Juarez as Roman Catholic Church officials caution would-be visitors about scams.

Roman Catholic Church officials in the U.S. said the Diocese of Ciudad Juarez is the official distributor of tickets for the Papal Mass on Feb. 17 and will be giving a limited number of tickets to El Paso parishes for the scheduled open-air Mass in the Mexican city.

Due to limited seating, the Diocese of Las Cruces in New Mexico won’t get any tickets. Officials also say the open-air Mass tickets are not for sale and warned against buying any.

People who want to experience the Mass but can’t get tickets could hear Pope Francis during a live video feed to be streamed at El Paso’s Sun Bowl, said El Paso Diocese spokeswoman Elizabeth O’Hara. She said tickets for that event will be sold at a low price to cover production costs.

The possible Sun Bowl event is being discussed after Roman Catholic Church officials cited safety concerns and scrapped plans for a celebration with the pope at the El Paso, Texas, side of a U.S.-Mexico border fence.

The pope is not scheduled to visit any U.S. border cities.

Ciudad Juarez, on Mexico’s northern border across from El Paso, is the last stop in the pope’s scheduled 5-day visit to Mexico, slated to begin Feb. 12 in Mexico City. During the visit in Mexico City, the pope is expected to visit the basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the country’s patron saint.

The pope will continue his Mexican trip in the southern border state of Chiapas, one of the nation’s poorest areas and home to a large indigenous population, followed by Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state and a hotspot in Mexico’s drug conflict.

In Ciudad Juarez, advertisements for Pope Francis’ upcoming trip are all over the city, especially near its main cathedral.

Images of the pope are shown with the words “Ciudad Juarez is love” in an attempt to transform the city’s image as one of suffering from drug cartel violence from a few years ago. The pope’s open-air Mass will be in a field with a capacity of 220,000. The pope is expected to discuss immigration to the U.S. and poverty on both sides of the border.

The Diocese of El Paso isn’t organizing any official pilgrimage to Ciudad Juarez but visitors are expected to travel to the Mexican city to see the pope pass by on the street or attend the Mass.

“The visit is to Mexico but it’s also a visit to us,” Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. “He’ll be next door.”

Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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