Mexico plans to deploy 10,000 police officers for Pope Francis’s visit to Mexico City in February, which is expected to draw 2.3 million people to events in and around the country’s capital. Officials said they plan to station police along almost all the six-mile route that the pope’s motorcade will take into the town of Ecatepec, and at the rally and mass he holds there on 14 February.
Mexico state governor Eruviel Avila said late on Wednesday that the city will set up bleachers along the city’s main boulevard, and that Ecatepec, just outside Mexico City, expects some 300,000 people to attend mass that day.
As on his tour through Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia last year, Pope Francis reportedly intends to meet freely with the masses despite the virtually unprecedented security around him. His visit to the US prompted one of the largest security operations in American history, run jointly by city police, the secret service and the FBI.
“The pope has called for no extraordinary measures,” Alberto Suárez Inda, the archbishop of Morelia, told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday. “On the contrary”, he added, the pope intends “to be near the people”.
“He would not come if he did not have his confidence in God, in the goodness of the people,” he said. “We’re all mortals, but as far as I know there has been no change in politics to necessitate more protection.”
Francis plans to visit Morelia on February 16 and will meet with young people and give a speech at a stadium there after visiting the city’s cathedral. A day later, the pope will visit Ciudad Juárez, the border city that has only recently begun recovering from years of disappearances and brutal murders.
The Argentinian-born pontiff will also visit the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the Americas.
Suárez Inda said that Pope Francis similarly had no security fears about his trip to Africa, but rather “was very afraid of the mosquitos”.
Francis himself has not spoken publicly about security in Mexico, and so far approached his trip with the gaiety that has won him adoration from religious and non-religious people alike. On Monday a Mexican priest, named Carlos Alberto Cardona, shouted to the pope while visiting the Vatican: “Father, we’re waiting for you in Mexico!”
In an exchange caught on video, Pope Francis approached the man with a smile and asked, “with tequila?”
“With a lot of tequila,” Alberto Cardona shouted back.
Continuing to speak on security concerns, Suárez Inda grew serious to say the pope was concerned for the safety of pilgrims who would arrive en masse. “We’re hoping here we have no major problem on this, and that the topic of the pope’s security doesn’t cause any serious anxiety.”
The pope is expected to speak on migration in Ciudad Juárez, as he did in a major speech in Philadelphia on the subject. Migration has become a central issue in the 2016 election in the US, although more Mexicans are now leaving the country than entering it.
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