Pope arrives in Mexico, Chicagoans make the trek to see him

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Pope Francis arrived in Mexico on Friday for a six-day mission. (WLS)

Pope Francis arrived in Mexico on Friday and will spend six days visiting some of the region's most violence and impoverished areas.

A 75-year-old Chicago man and his family were among many Chicagoans who returned to their native country to witness the Pope's visit.

WATCH: Chicago man, 75, surprised with trip to Mexico for Pope visit

Alonso Zaragoza wanted to give his, Daniel,75, a surprise. His father has deep Catholic roots going back to his earlier years in Mexico City. And he desperately wanted to see Pope Francis.

"I guess he was dropping hints, 'Oh I want to go, I've always wanted to go, I've never been blessed by the Pope before,'" Alonso says.

So, he bought the plane tickets and surprised his dad with the gift.

"It's gonna be fascinating, great," says Daniel. "I'm excited. For me, I love the church, love the basilica, the cathedral, the Pope, and, for me, it's an honor and privilege to go."

The family's Catholic devotion is seen in the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which they keep in their home, a replica of the shrine Pope Francis will visit in Mexico City.

"I'd be happy just being on the avenue when he passes by, to get my blessing from him, but I'm going to do my best to get inside the church," Daniel says.

That may mean getting up in the middle of the night just to get a spot to see the Pope. Daniel Zaragoza has a simple answer: "I'll get up!" he says.

Carmen Valesquez and Esther Corpuz, who operate a medical clinic in the Pilsen neighborhood, changed some vacation plans and traveled to Mexico City.

"It's just going to be a wonderful feeling to be there and in his presence," Corpuz said.

Pope Francis arrived for his first trip to Mexico to a red carpet and live music. He was greeted by President Enrique Pea Nieto, then blessed some children before trying on the band leader's sombrero. He later rode through the streets in his popemobile.

On Saturday, Pope Francis celebrates mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the highlight of his visit to Mexico.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the shrine to the Virgin Mary, is a cherished icon for Catholics of Mexican heritage. A similar shrine is in suburban Des Plaines, which draws thousands each year.

"Our Lady of Guadalupe, especially for Mexicans, represents more than an icon, it's an identity. It's a connection. It's Mexico," said Fr. Adan Sandoval, administrator of Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines.

Among the Pope's stops will be the crime-plagued Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, where his visit will shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the government's failure to solve entrenched social ills that plague many parts of Mexico - inequality, rampant gangland killings, extortion, disappearances of women, crooked cops and failed city services.

He will also visit the mainly indigenous southern state of Chiapas, which has the country's highest poverty rate. There he will celebrate a very Indian Mass and present a decree authorizing the use of indigenous languages in liturgy.

Francis will end his trip in the violent northern city of Ciudad Juarez, where he will pray at the border for all who have died trying to cross into the U.S. - a prayer he hopes will resonate north of the border.

Chicago Auxiliary Bishop John Manz is heading to Juarez to celebrate mass with the Pope.

"Many, many, killed, innocent people traveling through from the south and the violence, he wants to speak to that," Manz said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
religionu.s. & worldpope francismexico
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