MARCH 23 2012 16:29h

Mexican state spends $11M for papal visit

Mexican state spends $11M for papal visit

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GUANAJUATO, Mexico, March 23 (UPI) -- The state of Guanajuato, the heart of Mexican Catholicism, spent has about $11 million to prepare for the visit by Pope Benedict XVI, officials estimate.

Jorge Raul Villegas, spokesman for the Leon Archdiocese, which is hosting the visit, predicted hundreds of thousands of parishioners will attend Sunday's open-air mass at Bicentennial Park, CNN reported.

"We have already received people from states throughout Mexico and also from other countries, North and South America," Villegas said. "We've had requests from people with an open spirit and anxious to meet Pope Benedict."

The pope traveled to Mexico Friday.

Guanajuato has the highest percentage -- estimated at more than 90 percent -- of Catholics in Mexico, data indicated.

The Mexican Catholic Church hired Mexican artist Jesus Guerrero Santos to design the altar that will be used for mass. He told CNN he used nickel silver and ceramics as raw materials.

Money also was used for beautification projects, billboards announcing the special celebration and infrastructure improvements.

Officials said drug cartel leaders promised to cooperate, displaying banners that pledge to "keep the peace" during Benedict's visit, CNN said.

Officials said they expect visitors to spend about $80 million in meals, transportation, shopping and lodging.