Pope Francis will visit some of the most marginalized communities in Mexico and seek to bring hope to a country deeply suffering from crime, corruption and inequality when he visits in February.
The Vatican announced Dec. 12 details about the pope's Feb. 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 Pope 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-U.S. 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 Dec. 12 statement. "It will encourage believers and nonbelievers and commit us to the construction of a just Mexico, with solidarity, reconciliation and peace," the statement said.
Father Oscar Enriquez, parish priest and director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center 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."
Father 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, Father 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.
Here is the pope's itinerary as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses. The places the pope will visit are on Central Time except Ciudad Juarez, which is on Mountain Time.
Friday, Feb. 12 (Rome, Mexico City)
-- 12:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport.
-- 7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) Arrival at "Benito Juarez" International Airport in Mexico City. Officials to greet pope.
Saturday, Feb. 13 (Mexico City)
-- 9:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at the National Palace. Courtesy visit with the president of the republic.
-- 10:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.) Meeting with representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps. Speech by pope.
-- 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.) Meeting with Mexico's bishops in the city's cathedral. Speech by pope.
-- 5 p.m. (6 p.m.) Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Homily by pope.
Sunday, Feb. 14 (Mexico City, Ecatepec, Mexico City)
-- 9:20 a.m. (10:20 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Ecatepec.
-- 10:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m.) Mass in the area of the "study center" of Ecatepec. Homily by pope. Pope recites Angelus.
-- 12:50 p.m. (1:50 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Mexico City.
-- 1:10 p.m. (2:10 p.m.) Arrival in Mexico City.
-- 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Visit to the Federico Gomez Children's Hospital of Mexico. Greeting by pope.
-- 6 p.m. (7 p.m.) Meeting in the National Auditorium with representatives of culture. Speech by pope.
Monday, Feb. 15 (Mexico City, Tuxtla Gutierrez, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico City)
-- 7:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Tuxtla Gutierrez.
-- 9:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to San Cristobal de Las Casas.
-- 10:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.) Mass at the city's sports center with the indigenous community from Chiapas. Homily by pope.
-- 1 p.m. (2 p.m.) Lunch with representatives of the indigenous community and the papal entourage.
-- 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) Visit to the cathedral of San Cristobal de Las Casas.
-- 3:35 p.m. (4:35 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Tuxtla Gutierrez.
-- 4:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m.) Meeting with families at the Victor Manuel Reyna Stadium at Tuxtla Gutierrez. Speech by pope.
-- 6:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m.) Departure by plane for Mexico City.
-- 8 p.m. (9 p.m.) Arrival at the Mexico City airport.
Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Mexico City, Morelia, Mexico City)
-- 7:50 a.m. (8:50 a.m.) Departure by airplane for Morelia.
-- 10 a.m. (11 a.m.) Mass with priests, seminarians, religious men and women, and consecrated persons. Homily by pope.
-- 3:15 p.m. (4:15 p.m.) Visit to the city's cathedral.
-- 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Meeting with young people at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium. Speech by pope.
-- 6:55 p.m. (7:55 p.m.) Departure by plane for Mexico City.
-- 8 p.m. (9 p.m.) Arrival in Mexico City.
Wednesday, Feb. 17 (Mexico City, Ciudad Juarez)
-- 8:35 a.m. (9:35 a.m.) Departure by plane for Ciudad Juarez.
-- 10 a.m. (12 p.m.) Arrival at Abraham Gonzalez International Airport in Ciudad Juarez.
-- 10:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.) Visit to Cereso prison. Speech by pope.
-- 12 p.m. (2 p.m.) Meeting with workers and employers at the Colegio de Bachilleres of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Speech by pope.
-- 4 p.m. (6 p.m.) Mass at the fairgrounds of Ciudad Juarez. Homily and greeting by pope.
-- 7 p.m. (9 p.m.) Departure ceremony at the Ciudad Juarez International Airport.
-- 7:15 p.m. (9:15 p.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.
Thursday, Feb. 18 (Rome)
-- 2:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m.) Arrival at Rome's Ciampino Airport.