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AP vs. AP on Pope's Mexico visit

Father George Conger sent around an Associated Press story headlined:

Predominantly Catholic Mexico not exactly thrilled about the pope's visit this week.

"And the AP knows this how?" he asked. It reminded me of basically the same exact AP story from December that was headlined:

Mexican worshippers underwhelmed by papal visit

The reader who sent that story in wondered if journalists had a secret enthusiasm meter that they used to determine popularity. There were some great comments from that December story that are worth keeping in mind. Jerry wrote:

This seems to stem from the same kind of mentality that reporters are using to judge political candidates or perhaps sports figures and movie stars. Because otherwise I don’t see any rationale for even asking the question. Comparing the popularity a long serving Pope who might be named a Saint versus the current Pope seems to me to be a bizarre way of reporting on the Catholic church.

Brilliant! I love how he questions the very assumption behind the framing of the story. It's like the Mexico City bureau was trying to answer the question "What is the least important way to analyze the upcoming Papal visit?" It's also funny, of course, the strange new respect being accorded to Pope John Paul II. Why, I'm so old I remember when the media didn't praise him.

Reader Bain pointed out:

One topic glaringly omitted from the report was the reason for the visit. It is not a publicity stunt, or a promotional tour, or a vote-catching exercise, or a popularity contest.

The Holy Father, in announcing the visit at the Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said: "...supported by divine Providence, before Easter I intend to make an apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba, in order to proclaim the Word of Christ there, and convince people that this is the time to evangelise with strong faith, living hope and burning charity"

The idea that the success or failure of the visit is to be predicted or measured by commercial sales, is supremely ironic.

So let's look at the latest story, datelined Mexico City and trying to loop in the Cuba visit as well:

The biggest challenge for Benedict is that he isn't John Paul II.

Devotion still runs high for the pope's predecessor, who honored Mexico by making it his first trip outside the Vatican and coming back four times. He is known as "Mexico's pope." Recently, a glass case containing his blood (one of the relics of his beatification) traveled throughout Mexico for 91 days and is said to have been seen by 27 million people.

John Paul had an age advantage; he was 58 when he first came to Mexico. Benedict turns 85 next month.

Still, the difference in atmosphere is inescapable. The papal souvenirs and promotions that preceded John Paul have yet to materialize for Benedict. The hilltop "Christ the King" monument in Guanajuato, where the pope arrives Friday, displays only a few Benedict key chains.

"We believed in John Paul II, but Benedict, no. We know he exists, but we don't feel him," said Noemi Huerta at a celebration for the apostle St. Jude that overwhelms a church in Mexico City every month. "That's because he has rejected us a little. He keeps us at arm's length."

Nor is Benedict a fan of pseudo saints like Santa Muerte, or "Holy Death," condemned by the church but adored by drug traffickers and other criminals. The skeletal saint's statuettes have since become more popular, now sold in Mexican street markets and found in meth labs.

"La Flaquita," or skinny saint, is thought to protect outlaws and help in matters of love, money and illness.

Benedict has urged the purging of such practices in favor of a more "pure" Catholicism.

By the way, the entire substantiation for the charge of the headline is contained in this section. That means we have Noemi Huerta and an anecdote about souvenirs. But at least the reporters actually went or otherwise gleaned details in Guanajuato, even though the story was datelined Mexico City. And I suppose it's good to mention the difference in ages of the two popes.

But why, I must ask, are we analyzing this papal visit in terms of a popularity contest? Is this high school? Surely we can do better than this.

And as for the rest. Oy. What kind of story keeps the term "pseudo saints" out of scare quotes but puts "pure" in them? Or is that scare quoting or actual quoting? The quotes in this story confuse me. Sometimes I think that the big thing I missed by not going to journalism school was figuring out the mysterious art of when, where and why we use scare quotes.

That paragraph beginning "Nor is Benedict a fan" is just awful. What in the world is the story trying to suggest? That Pope John Paul II was a fan of Santa Muerte? We're told that the church has condemned it and that is true. Why is it mentioned in this story? If it's tied into the popularity contest the AP is running, it would be nice to flesh it out more. But the ham-handed attempt to make a big deal of Santa Muerte and "La Flaquita" (again, why does one have quotes and the other doesn't?) and tie them into narco-trafficking without explaining what the point of the association is makes this seem a bit silly.

It's getting a bit old but if you want to learn more about Santa Muerte, this is a good piece from the Chicago Tribune. This Time piece from around that time isn't bad either. George looked at both bad and good coverage of Santa Muerte a few months ago.

Let us know if you see anything more substantive than this popularity contest coverage of the upcoming visit of Benedict.

Oh wait, while searching for an image, I found a story. You'll never believe who published it or what it says. OK, it's also the Associated Press and here's a portion:

It takes a lot to prepare for the coming of the pope and the 3 million people the host Archdiocese of Leon says he is expected to draw. Facades must be spiffed; campgrounds must be sprayed for dengue-bearing mosquitoes.

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI, his first to Spanish-speaking Latin America, begins in just a week in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato, where he will spend three days and give an outdoor Mass for some 300,000 people before heading to Cuba on March 26.

In the Bicentennial Park in nearby Silao, hammers and heavy equipment pound out the contours of a massive stage large enough for a Madonna concert. The religious order of the Capuchin Poor Clares in San Isidro is making 150,000 Frisbee-sized hosts for the Mass, though it won’t require vats of wine. While the masses eat bread, only the officiates will sip a mere 2.5 gallons (10 liters) of consecrated wine on stage.

Maria de la Luz Yepez of nearby San Francisco del Rincon is overseeing the stitching and stretching of faux suede and velvet on three artisanal sombreros that will be given to Benedict. Each took three weeks to decorate by hand. One has an embroidered face of Benedict inside the cap and features a map of Mexico on the brim. Another shows the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.

She said the whole community, a suburb home to tennis shoe factories and makers of the black, spangled sombreros sold in airports and tourist stalls, wants to chip in.

So according to the Associated Press, people are "not exactly thrilled" but also totally excited about the upcoming papal visit. Hotels are booked, campsites are being set up and the people are showing "affection, gestures of love and welcome." Or not. One or the other.

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