Pope Francis will celebrate a “cross-border Mass” and visit some of the most marginalised communities in Mexico when he visits in February.
The Vatican announced on Sunday details about the Pope’s February 12-17 trip to Mexico, during which he will stop in six cities, including two in the state of Chiapas and — across from El Paso, Texas — Ciudad Juarez, which just five years ago was considered the “murder capital of the world” as drug cartels disputed a trafficking corridor.
The Pope said in November that he wanted to visit cities where St John Paul II and Benedict XVI never went. But he said he will stop at the capital of Mexico City to pray at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “But if it wasn’t for Our Lady I wouldn’t” go there, he had told reporters.
The Pope will fly out of and return to Mexico City each day after celebrating Mass at the basilica on the second day of his trip.
Over the following four days, he will visit a pediatric hospital in the capital as well as families and indigenous communities in the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, which gained worldwide attention for the 1990s Zapatista rebellion.
He will visit young people and religious in Morelia, celebrate Mass on the Mexican-US border in Ciudad Juarez and visit its infamous Cereso state prison, where at least 20 people were killed during riots in 2009 triggered by rival gangs among the prisoners.
“We are certain that the presence of the Holy Father will confirm us in the faith, hope and charity and will help the church move ahead in its permanent mission,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a December 12 statement. “It will encourage believers and non-believers and commit us to the construction of a just Mexico, with solidarity, reconciliation and peace,” the statement said.
Fr Oscar Enriquez, parish priest and director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre in Ciudad Juarez, told Catholic News Service that Juarez is often seen as an example of overcoming extreme violence: “The Pope always looks for the peripheries. Juarez is the periphery of Mexico and it’s a place migrants pass through.”
Fr Patricio Madrigal, pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the Michoacan city of Nueva Italia said by visiting Morelia, the Pope “wants to be closer to an area beaten down by violence. He wants to bring comfort and also closeness.”
The Pope’s meeting with young people and religious in Morelia is important, Fr Madrigal told CNS, as the Church there works to keep kids out of the cartels and provide priests with support and “strengthen us in the faith and our work in attending to victims of violence.”
Priests in the rugged Tierra Caliente region there had lent moral and spiritual support to vigilantes arming themselves to run off a drug cartel in 2013.
Pope Francis “wants to give young people a message of hope and that they stay away from the temptation of violence,” the priest said.