Travel warning issued as US-Mexico border preps for pope's Ciudad Juarez visit

Papal Mass scheduled for Feb. 17 in Ciudad Juarez


ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – Cities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are preparing for Pope Francis' visit to Ciudad Juarez as Roman Catholic Church officials caution would-be visitors about scams.

Roman Catholic Church officials in the U.S. said the Diocese of Ciudad Juarez is the official distributor of tickets for the Papal Mass on Feb. 17 and will be giving a limited number of tickets to El Paso parishes for the scheduled open-air Mass in the Mexican border city. 

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Officials also say the open-air Mass tickets are not for sale and warned against buying any. 

On Tuesday, KVIA-TV in El Paso reported the U.S. State Department included Juárez in its latest travel warning for Mexico. The warning will continue to be in effect during Pope Francis’ visit to the border city. 

According to the travel warning for Juárez, U.S. citizens are advised to “(exercise) caution in traveling to the business and shopping districts in the northeast section of Ciudad Juárez and its major industrial parks... Crime and violence remain serious problems throughout the state of Chihuahua, particularly in the southern portion of the state and in the Sierra Mountains, including Copper Canyon.”

KVIA reported officials estimate that 450,000 people will make their way to the region. 

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People who want to experience the Mass but can't get tickets could hear Pope Francis during a live video feed to be streamed at El Paso's Sun Bowl, said El Paso Diocese spokeswoman Elizabeth O'Hara. 

She said tickets for that event will be sold at a low price to cover production costs.

The possible Sun Bowl event is being discussed after Roman Catholic Church officials cited safety concerns and scrapped plans for a celebration with the pope at the El Paso, Texas, side of a U.S.-Mexico border fence. The pope is not scheduled to visit any U.S. border cities. 

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Ciudad Juarez, on Mexico's northern border across from El Paso, is the last stop in the pope's scheduled 5-day visit to Mexico, slated to begin Feb. 12 in Mexico City.

During the visit in Mexico City, the pope is expected to visit the basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the country's patron saint.

The pope will continue his Mexican trip in the southern border state of Chiapas, one of the nation's poorest areas and home to a large indigenous population, followed by Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state and a hotspot in Mexico's drug conflict.

In Ciudad Juarez, advertisements for Pope Francis' upcoming trip are all over the city, especially near its main cathedral.

Images of the pope are shown with the words "Ciudad Juarez is love" in an attempt to transform the city's image as one of suffering from drug cartel violence from a few years ago.

The pope's open-air Mass will be in a field with a capacity of 220,000. The pope is expected to discuss immigration to the U.S. and poverty on both sides of the border.

The Diocese of El Paso isn't organizing any official pilgrimage to Ciudad Juarez but visitors are expected to travel to the Mexican city to see the pope pass by on the street or attend the Mass.

"The visit is to Mexico but it's also a visit to us," Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. "He'll be next door."

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