Hundreds of thousands of jubilant believers lined the streets, singing, cheering and sobbing as they waved yellow-and-white flags. Some watched the ceremony on large screens mounted in the street, and leapt in excitement as Juan Diego was proclaimed a saint. Most caught only a quick glimpse of the pope as he passed by, but that was enough. "I got chills up to my head," said Irene Guzman, a 25-year-old speech therapist from San Gabriel, California.
Inside the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, dancers dressed in feathered Aztec costumes shook rattles and blew into conch shells as the image of the new saint was carried to the altar. Priests read from the Bible in Spanish and in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.
The pope said Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin appeared in 1531, was instrumental in the conversion of millions in the Americas to the Catholic faith. "Christ's message, through his mother, took up the central elements of indigenous culture, purified them and gave them the definitive sense of salvation," he said. "...He facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for a new Mexican identity."
For the second day in a row, the pontiff appealed for better treatment for Indians in the Americas. He asked Mexicans to help create "greater justice and solidarity" for all, and to "support the indigenous peoples in their legitimate aspirations, respecting and defending the authentic values of each ethnic group."
"Mexico needs its indigenous peoples and these peoples need Mexico," he said.
The 82-year-old pontiff, who suffers from symptoms of Parkinson's disease and hip and knee problems, appeared weary on the last leg of his 11-day, three-country visit. Wearing a yellow robe and hat, he slumped in a gilded chair placed near Juan Diego's cloak, straining to raise his head before speaking. His speech, however, was clearer than in recent days.
At his arrival ceremony Tuesday night, the pope motioned to an aide to help him stand as a band struck up the national anthems of Mexico and the Vatican. But he began to slide back into his seat, and President Vicente Fox reached over to steady him. Fox also attended the Mass on Wednesday, the first time a Mexican president has attended a papal Mass. Mexico only recently repealed what for decades were some of the world's strictest anti-religion laws, designed to rein in a church that for centuries ruled as part of the colonial power structure, owned much of Mexico's land and allied itself with foreign invaders and domestic dictators.
Only 22,000 people fit into the Basilica, and earlier plans for a Mass that would accommodate up to 5 million people were canceled. So most people had to be content with catching a glimpse of John Paul as he passed by on the street in his popemobile.
Mexicans have a special affection for John Paul, who chose their country for the first foreign trip of his papacy and has returned for the fifth time on what many expect will be one of his last. The pope repeatedly expressed his delight to be back in Mexico, where in 1979 he strummed a guitar with mariachis and donned a sombrero at a bullfighting ring.
Juan Diego was an Indian born before Europeans arrived in the New World. According to church tradition, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, leaving an olive-skinned image of herself on his cloak and helping drive the conversion of millions of Indians throughout the Americas.
Debate has intensified in recent months over Juan Diego, who some believe never existed. Several Mexican priests unsuccessfully petitioned the Vatican to delay the canonization because of the doubts. Canonization is the process by which the Roman Catholic Church declares someone a saint.
But the vast majority of Mexicans tie their national identity to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and to the man to whom she appeared. "This is the first pope to recognize an Indian, a humble Indian," said Maria Socorro Dominguez, a 48-year-old lawyer among the faithful lining the streets.
More than 30,000 police were deployed around the city to keep the peace, and some officers said they were told they wouldn't sleep for three days - the duration of the pope's stay. "It's worth it, isn't it?" said officer Ruben Alejandro Rodriguez, 29, holding his city-supplied meal of two small ham-and-cheese sandwiches and an apple.
On Tuesday in Guatemala City, John Paul canonized Pedro de San Jose Betancur, a 17th-century church handyman and prison pastor who founded an international order that serves the poor. The pope said Indians, many targeted by Guatemalan troops during a 1960-1996 civil war that killed 200,000 people, deserve "justice, integral development and peace." Adressing the many Mayan Indians at the ceremony, he said: "The pope does not forget you and, admiring the values of your cultures, encourages you to overcome with hope the sometimes difficult situations you experience."