Pope John Paul II opened his first visit to Central America in 13 years on Monday by exhorting Guatemalans to end their 35-year civil war - the region’s last and longest conflict.
Visibly tired after the 13-1/2-hour flight from Rome, the pontiff still smiled and waved enthusiastically to the crowd.
Later, he said he foresaw a “joyful moment” when Guatemala would reach a lasting peace.
He urged Guatemalans, weary of fighting that has killed at least 120,000 people, to do everything possible to end “a history of war and violence.”
“I come as the pilgrim of love and hope,” the pope said after descending slowly from a green-and-white Alitalia airplane, his white vestments blowing in a blustery wind.
The pope’s plane landed at 4:25 p.m. (2:25 p.m. PST). Military trumpeters welcomed him; an honor guard saluted him. An Indian girl in native dress and a boy in blue jeans greeted him, and the pope kissed each on the forehead.
President Alvaro Arzu, elected Jan. 7 as the fourth civilian leader since military rule ended in 1985, told the pope Guatemalans felt great joy with his presence. Indeed, thousands clamored to line the route of the pope’s parade, some climbing trees or perching on office windows.
John Paul last visited Guatemala in March 1983, when the country was under military dictatorship. It remains the only Central American nation still engaged in civil war, and many hope the pope’s presence will help revive sluggish peace talks.
Guatemala’s leftist rebels announced a cease-fire, the third since November, in honor of the pope’s visit. Other truces were called for the two-round presidential vote that elected Arzu.
“The moment has come in which we all unite … walking together on the road to reconciliation,” the president said, referring to his campaign promise to negotiate peace this year.
Cheers erupted along a Guatemala City boulevard as the popemobile - a bulletproof vehicle under heavy security - began its journey toward a downtown cathedral where the pontiff was to greet the throng.
“Long Live Pope John Paul II!” the crowd shouted as the popemobile made its way over a giant welcome mat of rose petals.
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