El Papa, the Day the Pope Visited San Cristobal

At the same time we were in San Cristobal de las Casas, Pope Francis was on a world wind tour that included a stop in our town.

His visit was highly anticipated and almost all of the hotels in town were sold out months in advance. This impacted us. We had to leave our unit in Kukurutz and relocate for a week. They were booked solid. Fortunately, we had made arrangements and had a backup plan for a place to stay nearby.

So what is it like when (arguably) one of the most powerful people on the plant visits a developing country? We were about to find out.

For starters, there were protesters. They weren't necessarily protesting the Pope. They were using the platform to object to human rights, the constitution and other things. This led to an increased police presence. Police were all over the town square and perched on top of roofs for several days leading up to the Pope's visit.

 Police waiting...just in case things got out of hand.

Police waiting...just in case things got out of hand.

There was Pope merchandise plastered throughout the town. Shirts, plaques, postcards, cups, DVDs, rosaries, etc. - all being sold in the name of capitalism...I mean Catholicism.

We are not Catholic but we have a great respect for the influence, power, culture and historical significance of the Pope. We considered this a unique home schooling opportunity and knew we wanted our kids to see him. We had two options.

1. We could see him deliver Mass. For weeks workers had been constructing a stage in the large public park in town. 

 This is the outdoor stage nearing completion just before the Pope's visit.

This is the outdoor stage nearing completion just before the Pope's visit.

In order to attend the Mass we'd need to have tickets and we'd need to get to the park early in order to get through security. We'd also need to prep our kids for what promised to be a long ceremony in several different languages. Mass was going to be performed in Spanish and some parts in a native Mayan dialect.

 The night before the big day, a friend gave us tickets. She wasn't going to use them and was fine whether we used them or not. 

The night before the big day, a friend gave us tickets. She wasn't going to use them and was fine whether we used them or not. 

2. We could see him in the Popemobile as he drove along a planned route.

 The route of the Popemobile was hung prominently on telephone polls and light posts throughout town.

The route of the Popemobile was hung prominently on telephone polls and light posts throughout town.

Since our kids don't do well with long waits to hear people speak in languages they don't understand, and Tag doesn't like to sit still (EVER), the choice was simple. We'd go with option #2, the Popemobile. 

It turned out this was the right choice for us. Mass lasted almost two hours. Plus we would have had to have arrived at least 90 minutes ahead of time. Our kids would have been miserable, and to be honest, it would have been tough for Mick and I. 

We arrived on the route about the time Mass was starting, and setup our camp along the railing. We had to wait roughly two hours before the Pope arrived, but thankfully our kids could talk freely, sit, stand, and walk. In other words, it was just bearable for them. At one point, we bribed them by buying lollipops from a street vendor.

The streets were getting more and more packed. Then finally...this happened...

Five minutes later, the crowds broke up, and it felt like a normal day. We found out later that the huge number of projected visitors did not materialize. The street were crowded but not to the original expectations. A number of hotel reservations throughout town were cancelled and rumor has it indigenous Mayans were paid money to attend the mass.

Even though the numbers were down I'd wager the Pope's visit was a success for both the town of San Cristobal and faithful Catholics. There were a lot of visitors in town, and there was a lot of excitement for his visit. Not to mention, there were no security problems. We can all say we've seen the Pope, and Mick can say she has seen two popes. (She attended mass at the Vatican two decades ago). It's another experience we'll never forget.