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 CNS Story:

CUP-GUADALUPE May-22-2006 (420 words) With photo. xxxi

Mexican fans gather at basilica to pray for team headed to World Cup

By Jason Lange
Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- World Cup fever in Mexico spilled into the country's largest shrine as the national team prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe for a successful run in the world's largest soccer tournament.

Legions of fans -- some sporting game regalia like clown costumes and Mexican flag-capes -- packed the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to attend a special Mass for the "Tri," as the team is affectionately called in Mexico.

"As Mexicans we are joyful and supportive of our brothers who will be representing our country," Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera said during the May 20 Mass.

"They have come to the holy feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe," the cardinal said.

The basilica houses Mexico's most holy relic, a cloak with an image of Mary that draws millions of pilgrims every year.

Outside, children and adults ran through the streets toward the basilica to catch a glimpse of 21 members of the national squad.

Throughout the Mass, the cardinal's words were followed by applause and soccer chants, and churchgoers in team jerseys made the sign of the cross as they whispered prayers for the players.

"Carry the colors of the flag with pride," Cardinal Rivera told the players, who were dressed in suits with green ties, matching the Mexican flag.

He gave each of the players a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and they presented him with an autographed soccer ball.

The team does not travel with a chaplain, though most of the members are Catholic.

A crowd of thousands ran alongside the team bus as it made its way down the boulevard bound for the airport.

Thirty-two teams are fine-tuning their strategies for the 64 games that will be played in Germany between June 9 and July 9. Mexico will play preparatory "friendlies" against France May 27 and against the Netherlands June 1.

In soccer-crazy Mexico, fans are hoping this could be their year for glory. Mexico has never made it past the quarterfinals, and its national pride received a serious dent during the 2002 World Cup when the United States easily dispatched the Mexicans, 2-0, in the second round.

This time around, soccer pundits predict Mexico should advance at least to the second round. Mexico will face Iran, Angola and Portugal during the first round.

"I pray for the team every day," diehard fan Francisco Guillen said following the Mass.


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