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TRIP TO MEXICO AND U.S. IS POPE'S 85TH FOREIGN VISIT

VATICAN CITY, JAN 22, 1999 (VIS) - When he departed Rome's Fiumicino Airport at 9 a.m. today for the 10,702 kilometer flight to Mexico City for the closing of the Synod for America, Pope John Paul started his 85th pastoral trip outside of Italy, returning to the country where he made his first foreign trip as Pope.

This is the Holy Father's fourth trip to Mexico. He first visited in late January 1979. Between his second trip in May 1990 and his third in August of 1993, diplomatic relations were established between the Holy See and Mexico at the level of apostolic nunciature for the former and of embassy for the latter. These were announced on September 21, 1992. Previous relations between the two had been established in 1864, but broken off unilaterally by Mexico in 1867.
Mexico has a population of 96 million, of which 89 million, or 92 percent, are Catholics. There are 83 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 5,462 parishes and 4,359 pastoral centers. These are served by 119 bishops (to which must be added bishop-elect Fernando Chavez Ruvalcaba, named on January 20), 13,141 priests (9,686 diocesan and 3,455 religious), 8,093 religious and 103,875 catechists. There are currently 6,058 minor seminarians and 7,519 major seminarians.
A total of 970,383 students attend Catholic schools in Mexico, including the 3,037 primary and elementary schools, 2,990 middle and secondary and 175 institutes of higher learning.
The archdiocese of Mexico was founded in 1530, a year before the five apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to two Indians, Juan Diego and his uncle, Juan Bernardino. The shrine bearing her name attracts an average of 20 million pilgrims a year. Our Lady of Guadalupe was named patroness of Mexico in 1737, of the Americas in 1910 and of the Philippines in 1935.
For this reason, there are 24 flags representing the Philippines and various countries of the Americas in front of the basilica. Juan Diego was beatified during a Eucharistic celebration in the new basilica on May 6, 1990.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera was named archbishop of Mexico in 1995. He was created a cardinal in the consistory of February 1998.

The second leg of Pope John Paul's trip starts on January 26 when he arrives in the U.S. archdiocese of St. Louis. He has been to the United States on six previous occasions: 1979,
1981, 1984, 1987, 1993 for World Youth Day in Denver and in October 1995 when he spoke at the United Nations and visited several dioceses on the U.S. East Coast.
At the end of 1997 the U.S. population was 266,490,000, of which 61,207,914 or 23 percent are Catholics. Ecclesiastical circumscriptions include 34 archdioceses and 157 dioceses, in which there are 19,677 parishes. There are 11 American cardinals (of whom three work in the Roman Curia), 62 archbishops, 377 bishops, 48,097 priests, 93,937 religious and 11,785 permanent deacons.

This is the Holy Father's first visit to St. Louis, which was founded in 1764. The diocese was established in 1826 and raised to the level of metropolitan church in 1847. It covers an area of 15,451 square kilometers and has a population of 2,094,579, of whom 27 percent, or 586,300, are Catholics. There are 239 parishes and 177 churches or missionary stations served by 475 diocesan priests, 408 religious priests and 2,909 religious. 
Archbishop Justin Rigali became archbishop of St. Louis in 1994. He had previously worked for many years at the Secretariat of State, including a period as president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the curial office which trains Vatican diplomats, and had been secretary of the Congregation for Bishops up to this current appointment.