MEDELLIN, Colombia – A new Medellin, offering a mass transit system, tourist destinations and greater security, will welcome Pope Francis on Sept. 9, when he makes a stop in the city during his visit to Colombia, the Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau said.
The change is “evident when you compare the Medellin of the late 1980s,” when the late Pope John Paul II visited, “to the city that will welcome Francis,” the bureau said in a statement.
Medellin “was about to experience one of its most violent periods: more than 6,300 homicides 1991,” the bureau said, adding that “the panorama has changed drastically today” since the level of violence has fallen “more than 90 percent,” with 2016 ending with 534 homicides.
This transformation has led to a rebound in tourism, with the industry growing about 247 percent in the past nine years.
“Today, Medellin has positioned itself internationally as a destination for big events and hosted happenings like the World Economic Forum (2015) and the World Urban Forum in 2014,” the Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau said.
On July 5, 1986, John Paul II arrived in Medellin, four days after traveling to Colombia for a seven-day visit that took him to 10 cities.
One of the projects that has boosted development in Medellin, the capital of Antioquia province, is a mass transportation system that includes a metro, cable cars, buses and streetcars, the bureau said.
Olaya Herrera International Airport, where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass before 1.2 million people in 1986, will welcome Francis and nearly 2 million of the faithful.
Medellin, whose population is now officially estimated at around 2.4 million, also boasts sports facilities, infrastructure projects and urban renewal initiatives, such as the electric staircases in Comuna 13 that changed the district’s face and improved the lives of thousands of residents of the impoverished area.
Pope Francis’s visit will be a “historic event for Medellin, which will be positioned on the global scene, since just four cities have been selected,” the Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau said.