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Feuding cartels declare truce during Papal visit to central Mexico

Pope Benedict XVI arrives Friday in Guanajuato

SAN ANTONIO – Due to arrive Friday amid tight security during his weekend visit, Pope Benedict XVI will spend time in the state of Guanajuato, about 200 miles from Mexico City, before flying to Cuba on Monday.

"It's like the Bible Belt of Mexico," said Dr. Katsuo Ishikawa, political science professor at Trinity University. "People are very Catholic and care a lot about religion."

Yet the area also is known as the territory of the Knights Templar and La Familia Michoacana, feuding drug cartels that also claim to have religious roots.

Both have now declared a truce in banners on display in the region ahead of the papal visit.

"I felt that they were serious and they  were going to keep their word," said Dr. Miguel Bedolla, the interim dean at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio. "But, I was very surprised."

Ishikawa said he considered it more of a public relations ploy in a deeply Catholic region.

"Even though it might look like they don't care about public opinion, they do a lot of communicate with the public," Ishikawa said.

Bedolla said tens of thousands have been killed in the six years since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began trying to rein in warring drug cartels.

However, Bedolla said perhaps the papal visit will help quell the violence.

"I don't know how that would do or how that would happen, but that's what one would hope," Bedolla said.

Ishikawa said, "Just because we have a simple two-and-half-day truce, at the end of the day, it's a drop in the bucket."

Both agree Pope Benedict is not perceived in the same way as his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

"He doesn't have the public charisma that John Paul II had," Bedolla said. "He's a quiet, thoughtful, deep-thinking scholar."

In contrast, Ishikawa said many homes in Mexico have their cherished photographs of the Pope John Paul.

The Trinity University professor said he thought Pope Benedict is late coming to Latin America.

"He could have raised his voice in a much stronger way, so I'm a bit disappointed it's only now that he comes," Ishikawa said.

Even still, Bedolla said he believes the pope will bring a much needed message of unity.