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Red Carpet, Papal Portraits Brought Out for Central American Visit

February 4, 1996

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans rolled out red carpets and decorated cathedrals with palm fronds and flowers Sunday in preparation for Pope John Paul II’s second visit to Central America.

Volunteers swept a Guatemala City street and prepared to lay down orchids and brightly dyed wood shavings on block after block of the planned parade route for the Pope’s arrival Monday.

``Alegria! That’s what I feel!″ said Adelaide Rodriguez, a 61-year-old widow, using the Spanish word for ``joy″ to describe the mood as hundreds of faithful prayed for the pope’s 69th foreign tour at a Sunday Mass.

Nearly 13 years after his last visit, Pope John Paul II is returning to Central America seeking to encourage peace after decades of civil wars and violence.

He spends Monday and Tuesday in Guatemala, visits Nicaragua on Wednesday and El Salvador on Thursday before heading to Venezuela.

``We are all tired of the violence, of the civil war. I hope the pope can do something to help bring us peace,″ said Manuel Torres, a 39-year-old Guatemalan welder who expects to be on the parade route.

Torres, like others, said he hoped John Paul would be able to spur efforts to end Guatemala’s four decades of conflict with leftist rebels, the last and longest war in Central America.

The rebels have announced a cease-fire for the visit.

Outside Guatemala City’s gray stone cathedral, street vendors hawked everything from pope postcards and pope T-shirts to pope buttons, candles and bumper stickers _ raising church funds.

Meanwhile, workers laid a red carpet up the steps of an outdoor altar where the pope is to meet with youths. Others were putting finishing touches on an altar to be used Tuesday in the town of Esquipulas.

Esquipulas, a religious center which houses a 400-year-old wooden carving of Jesus Christ on the cross, popularly known as The Black Christ, is 70 miles east of Guatemala City, near the border with El Salvador and Honduras.

In Nicaragua, the second stop of the pope’s week-long tour, street vendors waved bath towels with the pope’s likeness at drivers at Managua stoplights. Banners proclaiming ``Welcome″ went up in the capital.

Monsignor Bismarck Carballo, who is coordinating preparations, said the pope might discuss plans for a synod of bishops from all over the Americas.

The pope in 1992 raised the idea of a synod of the Americas and Carballo said it ``was possible″ the pope would return to the theme of an encounter between church leaders from throughout the hemisphere.

In El Salvador, workers put up large portraits of the pope and banners that read: ``Welcome, John Paul II, Pilgrim for Peace.″

Tensions still run high in Nicaragua and El Salvador despite accords that ended 1980s civil wars in both countries.

El Salvador’s archbishop, Fernando Saenz Lacalle, told a news conference Saturday that the pope ``comes bearing a message of peace″ for the Central American nation, where 12 years of civil war ended in 1990 after claiming more than 75,000 lives.

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