LEÓN, Mexico — As the Holy Father returned Sunday night to the Colegio Miraflores to rest for the night, he was greeted by a crowd of the faithful who had gathered outside to catch a glimpse of him. Going off script, the Holy Father stopped to address them and to thank them for the warm welcome he had received in Mexico.
“I have made many trips, and I have never been received with so much enthusiasm,” he said, speaking in Italian, while Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to Mexico, translated his words into Spanish.
“Now I can say that Mexico will always be in my heart,” said the Pope, wearing a sombrero charro (cowboy hat) and lifting his arms in greeting to the cheering crowd.
“For many years I have prayed for Mexico, but now I will do so much more,” he said.
“I can see why John Paul II said, ‘Now I feel like a Mexican Pope!’” he said, while the tightly packed crowd burst into cheers.
“I feel very good being with you, but you must understand that I have another trip tomorrow to Cuba. I must withdraw, but I give you my blessing,” he said, and then he blessed the crowd.
At this, the mariachi band burst into song, playing, Cielito Lindo, a traditional song whose lyrics say, “Sing, don’t cry; for singing makes hearts rejoice.”
With this “mariachi farewell,” the Holy Father experienced a quintessentially Mexican tradition, one reserved for special occasions meant to be remembered.
For the many Mexicans who watched this spontaneous exchange on television, it was yet another opportunity to see the human side of Pope Benedict XVI.
“Before, I just respected the Pope,” said Miguel Ángel Torres, a young man from Xalapa who followed the events on television because he was unable to make it to León.
“Now I love him. Benedict XVI has a place in my heart.”
Register correspondent Trish Bailey de Arceo filed this story from Leon, Mexico.
UPDATE: Pope Benedict’s remarks at the departure ceremony today can be found here.