In Mexico City, the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe is a busy place on a normal day.
It’s one of the most popular pilgrimage spots for Catholics in Latin America, visited by millions every year. But this weekend, it will be taken to a different level, with pope mania. It's where Pope Francis will head during the first leg of his week-long visit to Mexico.
He will pay homage to the basilica’s shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the most ubiquitous Catholic image in Mexico (and in much of Latin America and the United States).
Stores surrounding Mexico City's basilica are stocked with items featuring the image of Virgin of Guadalupe.
No surprise, many stores near Mexico City's basilica are flooded with images of the Virgin, along with trinkets and framed photos of Pope Francis with her.
It's hard to miss framed images featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe and Pope Francis in Mexico right now.
It’s reported that more than 880,000 tickets have been handed out to people eager to attend pope events in Mexico. And security around each event is extremely tight, with Mexico City assigning a record number of police and security officiers to his visit.
Security is tight as Pope Francis visits Mexico.
But many people are flocking from different parts of the country, just to be in the vicinity of the pontiff. María Concepción, 29, joined her family in a six-day pilgrimage, walking from the heavily Catholic state of Puebla to Mexico City. She worries that Mexicans are losing their Catholic faith.
“I hope he’ll strengthen their faith. We need a strong message now,” she says.
María Concepción walked six days from her town in Puebla, a heavily Catholic state that neighbors Mexico City, to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.
And it is true that younger Mexicans are becoming less devout. They are increasingly absent from the pews throughout the country, and the Church is having a tough time finding young Mexicans who want to become priests.
When asked about the Pope's visit, Elizabeth Cabrera, 16, seemed tepid, and worried about the traffic his presence will create. She is Catholic, but no longer attends mass on Sundays, having to work that day instead.
Elizabeth Cabrera, 16, works at a shoe store near Mexico City's basilica.
Meantime, Protestantism in Mexico is growing, including in the country's south and in heavily indigenous states like Chiapas, where Pope Francis will head after Mexico City. After that, he will head to the central state of Michoacán and then to Ciudad Juárez, just across from El Paso.
At all of his stops, from northern to southern Mexico, Pope Francis will emphasize two major themes that dominate Mexico's international image: migration and violence fueled by powerful criminal groups. His message will come through clearly when he delivers mass on the US-Mexico border, sure to be one of the more powerful moments of his visit.
Already, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has criticized the pope's trip as "very political."
Pope Francis will end his Mexico visit by delivering a mass in Ciudad Juárez and at just the edge of the Rio Grande.
Among those awaiting the pope's message of hope and solace are migrants at a shelter in Ciudad Juárez. Some of them, from both Mexico and Central America, will be special guests at the border mass.
"We look to God to guide us along our way," says Josue Daniel Eulario, from Honduras. He hopes to head to the United States soon after the pope leaves.
Josue Daniel Eulario, left, at a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juárez. He is from Honduras and is hoping to make his way to the United States.
From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International