Mexico prepares to greet Pope Benedict XVI

FRESNO, Calif.

The Mexican government has spent millions of dollars preparing for the Pope's visit.But his appearance will also be a financial blessing for the area.

Near a colonial city admired for its rich historic architecture, it's a project of celestial proportions. Construction workers have labored for months to build an altar worthy of a pope and an outdoor venue that can accommodate 700,000 people. The venue is called Bicentennial Park in Guanajuato state in the heartland of Mexican Catholicism. Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate mass here on Sunday on his first visit to Mexico.

The government has spent millions to get ready. "We are coordinating at the three levels of governments and security with the presidential guard," said Leon Archdiocese spokesperson Jorge Raul Villegas

Even the drug cartels have promised to cooperate, officials say, hanging banners pledging to "keep the peace" for the pontiff's stay.

The Pope's visit will be a blessing for Mexico in more ways than one. The Mexican National Confederation of Tourism estimates that 540,000 people will travel to Guanajuato and will spend roughly $80-million in meals, transportation, shopping and lodging.

Jesus Guerrero Santos, a renowned Mexican artist, has been working for months to create the symbolic artwork that will be used in the mass to celebrate the occasion. He has been creating an altar "out of nickel silver and ceramics."

Tourism officials hope the papal visit will put Guanajuato on the map. Billboards herald the special celebration along highways throughout Central Mexico, and mariachi bands have been hired to serenade the pontiff at his arrival.

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