Tomorrow the Pope arrives in Paraguay. To put it mildly, folks are freaking out. Pope Fever, also known as Popemageddon or Popapalooza, has begun to spread among the residents of the country. Preparations for the arrival of the Holy See began months ago and have been extensive, involving road repair, construction projects, party planning, crowd control planning, and emergency preparedness. Here’s the official logo for the Papal visit in both Spanish and the indigenous language, Guarani. In English, it means “messenger of happiness and peace.”
The newspapers had hundreds of articles about the Pope covering many angles, including one stating that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner (who has had a tense and argumentative relationship with the Pope, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires) will come to Paraguay for the Sunday mass, joining invited Heads of State from Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and of course Paraguay.
Nearly 90% of Paraguayans are Catholic and for many Paraguayans, particularly those outside of Asunción, Guarani is their first language. Upon learning that the Pope would be praying the the “Our Father” in the indigenous language of Guarani, newspapers printed the prayer in Guarani and radio stations played a recording of the Guarani prayer daily so that the faithful would have time to practice and memorize the prayer.
Stores started selling all sorts of pope memorabilia including pins, rosaries, busts, thermoses, baseball hats, shirts, DVDs, and an odd water bottle shaped like a t-shirt with the Pope’s image on it.
The boys got into the spirit too with their new Pope t-shirts with the Guarani logo for the Papal visit.
During his three-day, two-night visit to Paraguay, Pope Francis will be staying at the “Nunciatura” (“nunciature” in English), the papal diplomatic mission headed by the “nuncio,” or the Pope’s legal representative who is also an accredited diplomat. In Asunción, the Nunciatura is next to and shares a fence with the U.S. Embassy grounds. (Maybe if I borrow a ladder from the Embassy maintenance guys and stand along the shared fence, I can get a selfie with the Pope in the background?)
The Government of Paraguay has declared Friday a national holiday, and just about everything, including the Embassy will be closed. Restaurants and grocery stores are expected to be closed as well. Embassy security staff told employees to stock up at the grocery store ahead of time and plan to spend the weekend sheltered in their homes. Roads will be closed for blocks around the areas where Pope will be staying, visiting, traveling, and saying mass. Those areas where folks could possibly see the Pope are expected to be about 20 people deep.
The highlight of the Papal visit will be an outdoor mass open to the public on Sunday morning at a park in Asunción. An ornate altar, made with corn and green coconuts (which look like limes) was built for the mass.
There have been a few struggles during the planning as well. An estimated 3 million people will be attending the mass on Sunday, including 1 to 1.5 million Argentines. To handle a crowd of that size, the World Health Organization recommends one bathroom for every 40 people, which would be 75,000 port-a-pottys for a crowd of 3 million people. As of June 8, when the crowd estimates were only 1.6 million people needing 40,000 bathrooms, mass organizers were concerned that they could only locate 780 bathrooms. Now that the crowd size and bathroom needs have nearly doubled, I sure hope (but really doubt) thousands of additional port-a-pottys have materialized.
Hopefully all will go well this weeend. Follow along with the adventures of Pope Francis in Paraguay with these hashtags #PapaEnPy or #FranciscoEnPy!