Pope calls for 'prophetic courage' to deal with social ills

Pope Francis is currently in Mexico, photo: Vatican News Agency
Pope Francis is currently in Mexico, photo: Vatican News Agency

Pope Francis is currently on an apostolic visit to Mexico and has chosen to visit regions that have been affected by many social problems. On his arrival in the country on Saturday, he was greeted at the National Palace by President Enrique Peña Nieto before meeting with civic dignitaries and the bishops of Mexico in the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. He told the bishops to tackle Mexico's drug problem with "prophetic courage", warning that a society driven by greed and selfishness was fertile terrain for corruption, violence and drug trafficking.

One of the highlights of the Pope’s apostolic visit to Mexico has been the celebration of Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe at which he preached. The basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world and houses the image of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary that Catholics believe miraculously imprinted on a piece of fabric after she appeared before Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant, in 1531.

Hope of the suffering

Before spending time in silent prayer at the shrine, he addressed the packed basilica: “Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel, like him ‘worthless’,” he said. He then drew parallels with the current social injustices of the world, including poverty, immigration and crime. “On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands. On that morning, God came close and still comes close to the suffering but resilient hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost or even being taken by criminals.”

On Sunday, Pope Francis will celebrate a massive outdoor mass in Ecatepec, one of the many Mexico City suburbs hit by crime and an epidemic of murders against women. He then moves on (on Monday) to Chiapas, the poorest state in the country, where Mass will be celebrated in three indigenous languages; there the Pope is due to approve a decree allowing native languages in churches.

The route of migrants

Tuesday will see Francis in Morelia, the capital of the western state of Michoacan, where farmers formed vigilante forces in 2013 to combat the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel, before he concludes his trip on Wednesday in Ciudad Juarez, once known as the murder capital of the world.

The Pope’s visit to Mexico includes a prison and events with young people, seminarians, religious and families. One of his last and most significant engagements will be Mass at the fairgrounds across the border with Texas, at which hundreds of thousands of people, including the parents of 43 students who ‘disappeared’ in 2014, are expected. Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, represents the route of migrants who attempt to cross into the USA.

Last Friday, Pope Francis broke his journey to Mexico by stopping off in Cuba where he met the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill - the first meeting between the leaders of Rome and the Orthodox Church in almost 1,000 years. After it, they issued a statement vowing to continue working together towards reconciliation and calling for an end to conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine, respect for life and for Christian values to be upheld in Europe.