JUAREZ – It was a day of standing and waiting for hours in the sun for the tens of thousands who wanted chance to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis or be in his presence during the Mass.
Inside the Juarez Fairgrounds, thousands of Mass attendees crammed into their designated zones. Several brought blankets, pillows, chairs and lunches.
Malondo Carbajal who arrived at his zone at 3 a.m. came prepared with his group. The Mass was scheduled to begin just after 4 p.m.
“I brought a backpack first aid kit items, for myself and the group,” Carbajal said. “And a ham sandwich to help me get through the day.” The Mass was accessible to 220,000 ticket holders, but several thousand more that wanted to attend found other means to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff.
Although the main fairways were closed, people could still access the Mass site by taking alternate routes. Taxi drivers, would drop off tourists or late attendees as close as they could.
Street vendors along Panama Street – a good six blocks from the Benito Juarez Stadium – took the opportunity to attract customers while volunteers, locals and tourists made the trek to the mass site on foot. Vendors displayed souvenirs; T-shirts, hats, flags, pins that had the image of Pope Francis and paintings of the Holy Father
The scent of tacos de barbecoa, welcomed passersby and families sold aguas frescas, fruit cups that had melons, whole pineapples, papayas and watermelons. On the corner of Panama Street and David Herrera, a small hamburger shop was getting plenty of customers.
Closer to the stadium, there were few empty spaces along the sidewalk as vendors did their best to sell papal related souvenirs.
Matilde Guzman Garcia and her sister Margarita Garcia Gomez traveled from Mexico City with
their products – buttons with various images of Pope Francis, postcards, wall decorations, ribbons with Viva El Papá written on it with glitter, and silver rosaries paired with the image of the pontiff. The items ranged from 10 pesos to 50 pesos.
“We came from Mexico City and have been selling these at parishes that will have us and along his routes when we could,” Garcia said in Spanish. “But we’ve found that it’s cost us more in traveling from Mexico City here – and back.”
Garcia stressed – that while they were selling items that were related to the Pope’s coming to Mexico, another reason they traveled from Mexico City to Juarez was to spend time with family.
Garcia and Gomez said they estimated it cost them about 4,000 pesos in travel expenses to sell their items along the papal route.
“But you know what, the people of Juarez have been really great,” Gomez said. “They treat us right and are very helpful if we need it – not just in buying our items, but also in helping us out with travel and transportation. It’s (Juarez) has a gotten a bad reputation, but it’s not like everyone says it is.”
With the tourists in Juarez and the locals, the sisters expect to make a small profit.
Just a block away from Garcia and Gomez, thousands leaned against the barriers, along the papal route at the Heroico Colegio Militar Avenue, just outside the Juarez Fairgrounds, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the pontiff on his way to the mass.
Claudia Martinez, waved a flag with the pontiff’s image on it, and held onto a spot on the fence that she and her husband, Luis De La Cruz, picked out at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
“We’ve been waiting and waiting,” Martinez said in Spanish. “We decided not to watch it from home because we figured since we are here and live here we should take up the opportunity because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t know if this will happen again – maybe with another Pope – but not anytime soon.”
When asked whether she thought the Pope might get off of his route and greet the crowd with a blessing, she simply said, “Well, isn’t his visit alone a blessing in itself.”