Not a 'cardboard politician': Biden's faith forges bond with Mexico

FILE PHOTO: A man carries an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back, at the Basilica of Guadalupe during the annual pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexican Catholics, in Mexico City, Mexico December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - They did not speak the same language and were not even in the same room. But the presidents of Mexico and the United States quickly found common ground in a virtual "meeting" on Monday, in the form of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Mexico's patron saint is one of the most beloved symbols of national identity in a country where most people share U.S. President Joe Biden's Roman Catholic faith.

Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president, opened his remarks noting that he had "paid respects" to the Virgin of Guadalupe on trips to Mexico, and wore a rosary from her namesake basilica that belonged to his late son.

"As a matter of fact, I still have my rosary beads that my son was wearing when he passed," Biden said, lifting his wrist to show them.

Beau Biden died of brain cancer at age 46 in 2015 - one of several family tragedies that have touched the president's life, and that he often weaves into emotional public speeches.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday praised Biden's openness in the video conference.

"From the outset, this confession that he wears a rosary, the mention of the Virgin of Guadalupe," Lopez Obrador told a regular news conference. "I mean, he didn't come off as a cardboard politician, rigid, but rather as a man of feeling."

The Mexican bishops' conference hailed Biden's "devotion" to the Lady of Guadalupe, a Virgin Mary figure who, according to legend, appeared to an Aztec man in 1531 a decade after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Traditional imagery of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in which she wears a blue robe flecked with golden stars, is a common sight in churches and shrines throughout Mexico and is widely referenced in pop culture.

"We are proud that the Virgin of Guadalupe is so loved and appreciated everywhere beyond languages, cultures and traditions," the conference said in a statement.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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