The faithful lined more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the pope's route from the airport into Leon shouting the ultimate welcome: "Benedict, brother, you are now Mexican!"
The pope responded to the greeting as he stepped off his plane to wild cheers and the clamor of ringing bells.
"This is a proud country of hospitality, and nobody feels like a stranger in your land," Benedict said. "I knew that. Now I see it and now I feel it in my heart."
The streets of Leon, where the pope will stay during his three-day trip, took on a carnival atmosphere, with entire blocks exploding in yellow confetti when he passed in his bulletproof popemobile.
Juan Manuel Rosales, who works in one of Leon's many shoe factories, came to the papal route with a glass-enclosed altar to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos, patron saint of a nearby town. Around the ceramic statue he placed pictures of the sick and asked the saint that they be healed.
"Everyone has a different reason for being here," Rosales said. "I hope to become a better person. I hope that we stop shooting each other."
Luz del Carmen Castillo Silva, a 15-year-old student at a Catholic women's technical college, said she came five hours from the city of Tlaxcala to strengthen a faith that already had her attending daily Mass.
"I want to become another person when I see the pope, ministering to people, speaking with God. ... Seeing the pope, we see the love that we have for Christ," she said.
The weeklong trip to Mexico and Cuba is Benedict's first to both countries, and it will be a test of stamina for the pope, who turns 85 next month. At the airport Friday in Rome, he used a cane, apparently for the first time in public, while walking about 100 yards (meters) to the airliner's steps.
Papal aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Benedict has been using the cane in private for about two months because it makes him feel more secure and not for any medical reason. He left the cane aside as he stepped off the plane in Mexico.
Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo and Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report.
Follow AP reporters covering the pope: twitter.com/(hashtag)!/AP/pope-visit
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