Pope Francis tells Mexico leaders: Nation needs 'true justice'
MEXICO CITY, Mexico (4th UPDATE) – Pope Francis called on Mexico's leaders on Saturday, February 13, to provide "true justice" and security to citizens hit by drug violence, as he addressed a National Palace packed with politicians.
With President Enrique Pena Nieto by his side, Francis invoked the country's struggles against corruption and crime, one day after arriving on a 5-day, cross-country tour of Mexico.
The pope told the assembled lawmakers and government officials that social, cultural and political leaders have a duty to help citizens "have real access to the material and spiritual goods which are indispensable: adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment."
"Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all ... society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development," he said.
It was the kind of message that many ordinary Mexicans, fed up with a decade of drug violence that has left more than 100,000 dead of missing, were hoping for.
Mexico was reminded of its troubles on the eve of the pope's arrival, when 49 inmates were killed in a prison brawl between rival groups in the north of the country.
Thousands of Catholic faithful who stood outside the National Palace in the historic Zocalo square broke into cheers at the Argentine pontiff's words.
"Bravo! How great that he tells the government the truth," one woman shouted.
"The pope put the government to shame with everything that he said. Let's see if Pena Nieto does the right thing," said Ramiro Sosa, a 56-year-old shopkeeper from the crime-ridden eastern state of Veracruz.
First pope in palace
Pena Nieto gave Pope Francis a red-carpet welcome at the ornate palace, a symbolic location as it is the seat of governments that were militantly secular throughout the 20th century.
Previous visiting popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, were not invited to the palace, which features a mural of Mexico's history by communist painter Diego Rivera.
While Mexico is the world's second most populous Catholic country after Brazil, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were only restored in 1992.
"It's the first time that a pontiff is greeted at this historic place. This reflects the good relation between the Holy See and Mexico," Pena Nieto said.
"Your visit transcends the meeting between two states. It is a meeting between a nation and its faith. Your holiness, Mexico loves Pope Francis for his modesty, his kindness and his warmth."
The palace meeting "offers a study in contrasts" between a popular pope and "an unpopular head of state who faces one setback after another," said Andrew Chesnut, religion professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Thousands thronged the streets of Mexico City to wave at the Argentine-born pontiff again after a jubilant welcome late Friday.
"He's our spiritual guide and we hope that he supports us in this difficult moment for our country," said Magdalena Caballero, a 50-year-old government worker whose nephew was kidnapped a few weeks ago. "His presence fills us with hope."
Hours before his arrival, Pope Francis took care of another, much older rift by holding a historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Cuba in a bid to end a 1,000-year-old Christian rift.
Virgin of Guadalupe
After his meeting with Pena Nieto, the pope will make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major Catholic shrine.
The basilica houses the image of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary that Catholics believe miraculously became imprinted on a piece of fabric after she appeared before an indigenous peasant in 1531.
"The pope's encounter with Guadalupe will be monumental – he's strongly Marian and she's not only Queen of Mexico but Empress of the Americas," Chesnut said.
The pope has asked for time alone to pray quietly in front of the image after the mass.
The following days will take the pope to some of Mexico's notoriously poor and violent regions.
"The Mexico of violence, corruption, drug cartels: That's not the Mexico that Our Mother loves," he said days before his visit, referring to the Virgin. "I don't want to cover up any of that."
The pope has chosen to visit regions affected by many of these problems.
On Sunday, he will lead a massive outdoor mass in Ecatepec, one of the many Mexico City suburbs hit by crime and an epidemic of murders against women.
The next day, he travels to Chiapas, the poorest state in the country, where he will preside over a mass that will be conducted in 3 indigenous languages and approve a decree allowing native languages at Churches.
On Tuesday, Francis goes to Morelia, the capital of the western state of Michoacan, were farmers formed vigilante forces in 2013 to combat the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel.
He will cap his trip on Wednesday in Ciudad Juarez, the former murder capital of the world across the border from Texas.
There, he will lead hundreds of thousands in a cross-border mass, with the parents of the 43 missing students expected to be in the crowd. – Jennifer Gonzalez Covarrubias, Yemeli Ortega, and Carola Solé, AFP/Rappler.com