Pope's mission of mercy to Mexico

Site of pilgrimage: The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wikipedia Commons
Site of pilgrimage: The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wikipedia Commons

Pope Francis will begin a visit to Mexico at the end of this week, a country which has the second largest Catholic population in the world. The six-day visit will include areas know for migration, poverty, violence, corruption and crime. One of the most symbolic and emotionally-charged points of his pilgrimage will be the celebration of Mass on the Mexico-US border.

En route to Mexico, in Cuba on Friday, the Pope will be meeting the Russian Orthodox leader of Moscow and All Russia, Patriarch Kirill, in what has been described as “an event of extraordinary importance”. And in a video message to the people of Mexico, Pope Francis said he would be travelling “as a missionary of mercy and peace,” telling them: “I want to be close to you, but especially to you who suffer, to hug you and tell you that Jesus loves you, that He is always by your side.”

After his arrival in Mexico, the Pope will meet President Enrique Peña Nieto at the National Palace and deliver a homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a shrine to Mexico’s most revered saint. Then on Sunday he will transfer to Ecatepec, just outside Mexico City, which is notorious for its poverty and high levels of murders. He will then celebrate Mass in Morelia, capital of Michoacan state. This is one of the main sources of migrants who live in the USA - a region that has been terrorised by a drug gangs.

Indigenous cultures and languages

The least traditionally Catholic state that Pope Francis will visit is Chiapas, on Mexico's border with Guatemala. This is home to many semi-autonomous indigenous communities, where both liberation theology and Protestant Pentecostalism have made significant inroads. Chiapas is also the most impoverished and neglected state in Mexico. In the picturesque, mountainous city of San Cristobal de las Casas, Francis will lead prayers using indigenous languages, such as Tzotzil and Chol. According to local bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, the celebration will also feature Maya dance and symbols.

Pope Francis will visit a prison and a hospital, and attend events with young people, seminarians, religious and families during his visit to Mexico. But Chiapas is one of the most symbolic venues on his trip, since it is the most common entry point for Central American migrants fleeing into the USA. The final stop on his pilgrimage will be the northern border city of Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, thus representing the route of migrants themselves. On 17 February, he will preside over a cross-border Mass with an estimated 200,000 on the Juarez side and others on the US side. About 50,000 will watch a simulcast at El Paso's Sun Bowl stadium. The stage from which he will pray is only about 80 yards from the border fence, and he plans to ride along the barrier in his popemobile. The event follows a tradition started by US bishops of saying Mass at the border fence in a show of unity and support for migrants and, according to the Pope’s spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, "The Mass will be deliberately visible from both sides."