The pope, a Catholic spokesman here insists, is not coming to La Crosse this week.
That the rumor would even exist in the area hints at the significance, however, of the opening Thursday of a copper-domed church at the 103-acre Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a recently established Catholic pilgrimage site that boasts 50,000 visitors a year from southeastern Minnesota and around the Upper Midwest.
That's 50,000 visitors while the complex, which has Latin American-inspired architecture and sits in wooded bluff land in the southeast edge of La Crosse, is still being built. A key memorial area is under construction, with more additions likely over the coming years.
Thursday's dedication ceremony could be a major turning point for the shrine, which, with its half-mile trail dotted with sculptures and places for reflection, is the largest U.S. shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a 16th-century apparition of the Virgin Mary in Mexico.
The way spokesman Jack Socha sees it, the Shrine Church's opening to the public Thursday will not only give the shrine complex a sense of wholeness, but it will make it a bigger attraction in the region and beyond. He predicts that an increase in visitors could lead to new hotel development and other changes on the south side of La Crosse.
In the meantime, the guest list for Thursday's 1 p.m. church dedication Mass shows the importance being attached to the event. Some 200 priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals, in addition to Eduardo Verastegui, star of the movie "Bella," are expected to attend the Mass, which will be broadcast across the country on Catholic radio and transmitted to 140 nations in English and Spanish on EWTN, the Catholic cable network. Rochester Post Bulletin
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