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MEXICO - Runners Carry Torch to US for Patron Saint and


Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Dec 12 (IPS) - Runners with the "Guadalupe torch" relay reached New York city Thursday, 45 days after the first group set out from the Mexican capital to call attention to the plight of four million undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States.

"May the Virgin (of Guadalupe) soften the heart of President George W. Bush in order for him to legalise the status of Mexican immigrants" was the prayer said by the runners when they reached San Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

Various groups ran 5,000 kms through several Mexican states and along the east coast of the United States carrying the torch -- which was lit in the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, the country's most important Roman Catholic church -- as well as a large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Dec 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, who was also declared by the Vatican the Queen of the Americas, is one of the most important religious events of the year for many Mexicans.

While the runners were reaching New York, millions of Catholics were making the pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in the Mexican capital Thursday.

Groups of 50 to 100 runners, mainly from Mexican or Mexican- American families divided by the U.S.-Mexican border, took part in the relay.

The participants, nearly all of whom were new to running, were named by Catholic priests as "messengers for the dignity of a people divided by borders", as their shirts stated.

Around 20 million Mexicans and people of Mexican descent live in the United States, including an estimated four million undocumented immigrants.

Mexican President Vicente Fox says the immigrants are "heroes", because through their hard work, often in substandard conditions, they improve their own lives and those of their families.

The Guadalupe torch relay was an initiative of the New York city-based Asociación Tepeyac, a cultural organisation that defends the rights of Mexican immigrants.

The first group of runners set out from the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City on Oct 29, after receiving the blessing of Bishop Norberto Rivera.

"Fox and Bush are two people. We are millions, and we elected them and we want them to listen to us, because we want the border to disappear, and for us to be brothers and sisters," said Bishop Josú Iriondo, representative of the New York bishops, at the start of the relay.

The executive director of Tepeyac, Joel Magallan, said the torch run is a centuries-old Mexican religious tradition that has its roots in pre-Hispanic indigenous culture.

The United States and Mexico share a 3,200-km border along which security has become increasingly tight, with high fences and sophisticated security systems to keep out undocumented immigrants.

But despite the controls, thousands of Mexicans cross the border every year to find work in the United States or to simply be reunited with their families.

The issue of Mexican immigrants in the United States had moved to the top of the agenda of bilateral relations last year, and is a question that Fox sees as central to his government's foreign policy.

But binational talks on the issue were pushed to the backburner after the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The Fox administration continues to insist on the need to regularise the situation of the Mexican immigrants living in the United States, but the U.S. government is only interested in the question of security and guaranteeing trade flows between the two countries.

"If Fox is unable to convince Bush of the pressing need to come up with solutions to the immigration question, I hope the Virgin of Guadalupe will," said Adán Zanez, a young Mexican who took part in the torch run.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which links Canada, the United States and Mexico, guarantees the free cross- border movement of merchandise, money and businesspersons, but does not regulate immigration.

Around 300 million people cross the border between Mexico and the United States every year, making it the world's most heavily- trafficked frontier.

Around 1.5 million Mexican immigrants have settled in the United States over the past five years, and only one of every four who leave Mexico come back here to live, according to a study by Mexico's National Migration Institute.

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