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Pepsi peps up papal parade

THE POPE'S visit to Mexico, which started yesterday, will be more akin to a sports event, with 25 official sponsors from Pepsi to a crisp company using his image on their products. But its purpose will be deadly serious, largely to stem the tide of evangelical churches creeping up on South America's traditional Roman Catholicism.

Amid widespread criticism of the commercialisation of his visit and rumours that his robes might even carry a Sabritas crisps logo, a Vatican spokesman called a news conference to say sponsorship was needed to cover the visit's $2m (pounds 1.25m) costs. But he said the Pope would not, as rumoured, wear or pose next to any commercial logo. "The Papa will not come out dressed as a papa," he said, playing on the fact that "papa" means both "pope" and "potato" in Spanish.

The ailing 78-year-old pontiff, on his fourth visit to Mexico in 20 years, will sign a document outlining church strategy in the Americas for the next millennium, including how to staunch the spread of Protestantism. About 90 per cent of Mexicans list themselves as Catholics but sociologists say that is often to avoid persecution or discrimination.