Pope flies over giant statue of Christ before mass
Mar 25, 2012, 16:48 GMT
Silao, Mexico - Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday flew over a giant statue of Christ with arms outstretched, near the central Mexican city of Silao, prior to saying mass before a crowd of thousands.
Benedict who is to say mass at the Bicentennial Park, at the foot of the Cerro del Cubilete, flew over the statue at the top of the hill in a helicopter of the Mexican Armed Forces.
The 20-metre statue of Christ, said to be the world's largest made in bronze, rises 2,579 metres above sea level. Later Sunday, Benedict was to press a button to illuminate the monument from the nearby city of Leon.
'(The lights) will remain as a permanent symbol for the people of Guanajuato and of Mexico,' Guanajuato Governor Juan Manuel Oliva Ramirez told dpa in a recent interview.
The statue was erected at the end of the Cristero War (1926-29) in which thousands rose against the anti-clerical provisos of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. The war claimed thousands of lives.
Mexican parishes have handed out 300,000 free tickets for the Sunday mass, the highlight of Benedict's stay in Mexico, but the authorities said at least that many could show up without tickets to witness the event from nearby mountainsides.
During his stay in Mexico, which has the world's second-largest Roman Catholic population after Brazil, Benedict is to remain in the state of Guanajuato.
The pontiff is to skip Mexico City because of its high altitude of 2,240 metres.
On Saturday, Benedict met victims of gang violence in Mexico, the president's office said Sunday. The meeting took place at the initiative of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, as the two men got together in the central city of Guanajuato.
An estimated 50,000 people have died in Mexico over the past five years in incidents linked to organized crime.
Benedict spoke to the families of civilians, public officials and security force members killed because of fighting amongst the country's powerful gangs.
Calderon and the pope agreed that the proliferation of weapons had promoted organized crime, the president's office said.
Benedict, who arrived in Mexico Friday, is to leave Monday for Cuba for a stay of less than 48 hours, during which he plans to visit Santiago de Cuba and the capital Havana. The pope was due back in Rome Thursday.
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