Watch Pope Francis host a papal mass for several hundred thousand people at the #2Nations1Faith simulcast, 5 p.m. at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- Pope Francis won't step foot in El Paso on Wednesday, but his presence across the border in Ciudad Juarez was still being widely felt in the West Texas city.
Thousands of people from El Paso as well as other parts of the U.S. were expected to make the short trip over the various bridges that link the cities to attend an outdoor Mass that is expected to be attended by more than 200,000 people and will cap Francis' visit to the Latin American country. About 30,000 more were expected to watch a livestream from the Sun Bowl stadium at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Francis arrived Wednesday morning in Juarez, greeted by hundreds of people in bleachers set up at the city's airport.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of pedestrians walked across the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez. Volunteers from the Catholic Diocese handed out free water bottles to those crossing the bridge, the port of entry that is closest to where the Mass in Juarez will be held.
One of the pedestrians, Luis Trillo, did so despite pain from arthritis in his legs. The elderly man said he was excited to hear the pope's blessing at the Mass.
El Paso resident Maria Hermosillo, 35, said she was going to the Mass alone because she couldn't find anybody else to go with her.
"I'm very excited to be in the presence of the spirit that the pope has and his message," she said.
While the Mass will be held in a large field in Juarez, close to the U.S.-Mexico border, that many will be able to see from downtown El Paso, people will not be able to get close to the border on the U.S. side as officials have closed down several downtown neighborhoods and a portion of a border highway.
Just before the start of his Mass in Juarez, Francis was expected to make a short walk to the border fence along the Rio Grande, which separates the two countries, and offer a prayer for migrants on the other side and for those who died trying to get to the U.S. A group of about 500 invited people, including migrants, refugees and religious leaders, will be on the U.S. side.
Religious leaders and migrants rights advocates said during a news conference in El Paso that the pope's prayer for immigrants will send a message that's not political but humanitarian.
"Because something has political dimensions it doesn't mean that it does not also have moral dimensions and it is the moral dimensions that our holy father will be addressing," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
One activist group, the Border Network for Human Rights, had placed a sign that read "#ImmigrantLivesMatter" on a building on the U.S. side near the Mass.
Many who went to the Sun Bowl arrived well ahead of when its doors opened at noon.
El Paso resident Andrea Herrera said she and her parents had been at the stadium since 7:30 a.m. to tailgate, decorate candles, eat menudo -- a traditional Mexican soup -- and pray.
"This is our own pope-a-palooza," she said, referring to the popular music festival.
Fellow El Paso resident Claudia Saucedo, who came with her husband and six children to the stadium, said Francis "brings hope to the people. He's the closet spiritual person to God here on Earth."
Gates are open for Pope's simulcast at the Sun BowlPosted by Tania Ortega on FOX 7 on Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Many have already crossed the border to Juarez so they can be in the same city as Pope Francis. Meantime the Sun Bowl holds about 50,000 people and they are expecting Catholics from all over the country to come out for the celebration.
The papal mass will be celebrated in Juarez and will be simulcast to the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Those in attendance in El Paso will not be given communion and will technically not be at the papal mass but they hope Pope Francis will bless everyone at the Sun Bowl.
The event will include performances by some of El Paso’s dancers, mariachi and choirs.