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[mexico city] Taking the pope on tour is a costly trip. And the selling of Pope John Paul II's $2 million four-day visit to Mexico generated a great deal of controversy in the country, where more than 85% of the population identifies itself as Catholic.

The pope heads for the U.S. on Jan. 26, to give a mass in St. Louis.

All kinds of trinkets and souvenirs are available from street vendors, as during the pope's previous three visits here. But new this time around is multinational marketer involvement, including holy pictures of the pope packaged inside potato chip bags from Sabritas, the Mexican subsidiary of Frito-Lay.

Sabritas is marketing a collection of 10 pictures, which consumers can collect in frames they can purchase from the Sabritas mini-trucks that circulate around the country; proceeds are donated to the church-sponsored fund to benefit pilgrims.


Church officials have defended their efforts to use modern means to bring the pope's message to the faithful.

"We live in an era of advertising and we are men of that era," Apostolic Nuncio Justo Mullor told Mexico City daily Reforma.

"The church has the challenge to be present in all media, with the risk of being wrong," Mexican Archbishop Norberto Rivera told the newspaper.

PepsiCo is another sponsor of the pope's visit, having run a TV commercial promoting the visit; the PepsiCo name is not used until the very end, identifying the company as an "official collaborator."

PepsiCo also has festooned restaurants, kiosks and stores in the streets leading up to the Basilica of Guadalupe-Mexico's holiest shrine to its patron saint-with its logo. By one estimate, 26 ads for PepsiCo were visible in a 330-feet stretch near the Basilica, which will be visited by the pope.

The country's No. 2 bank, Bancomer, created a special account for donations for the pope's visit. It's also selling 250-peso (about $25) commemorative medallions via its more than 1,300 branches. Those proceeds will go to the church to help defray the cost of the visit, estimated at $2 million.

Although local church officials had put the call out last year for support, the controversy appears to have to do with the sanctity of the pope himself.

A giant Christmas tree on the main boulevard of Paseo de la Reforma, sponsored by Coca-Cola Co. and decorated with giant bottle-caps stamped with the Coca-Cola name, raised eyebrows among expatriates but didn't elicit a peep of protest from locals.

Given the polemic surrounding the "commercialization" of the pope, marketers are reluctant to identify themselves as sponsors. But backers of the visit include Hewlett-Packard Co., which provided the press room and other pope-related offices with computers and printers; national airline Mexicana, which will transport the pope from Mexico to his next stop in St. Louis; and Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex), which wired the press room for phones, lent cell phones for certain dignitaries and set up Internet connections.


Telmex has placed pope posters-with a discreet logo at the bottom-on its public phone booths.

"We are not doing any advertising," said Arturo Elias, commercial director at Telmex.

Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico's two main TV broadcasters, are pooling coverage, splitting the main events in addition to their own special reports to air throughout the visit. Promotion spots began in November on Televisa, which also sold eight packages of ad time to marketers that wanted to focus on pope viewers.

Sabritas; Master Products' detergent Mas Color; Sal de Uvas (an antacid); Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.; and pension-plan Afore Principal bought full packages. Nestle, opticians Devlin, Danone, Bonafont bottled water, Lala milk and

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