Mexico’s richness is its young people, Pope Francis told the nation’s assembled political leadership at the National Palace in Mexico City today. “Just over half of the population is made up of youth,” the pope said. “This offers hope and future prospects. A people with a youthful population is a people able to renew and transform itself; it is an invitation to look to the future with hope and, in turn, it challenges us in a positive way here and now.”
Describing himself as a missionary of mercy and of peace, the pope said he also came to Mexico “as a son who wishes to pay homage to his mother, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, and place himself under her watchful care.”
A vast crowd had assembled under a blazing sun within the Zocalo in the historic center of Mexico City, following in remarkable silence every word and gesture of the pope from giant viewing screens that had been erected throughout the this historic central plaza, connecting the site of Mexico’s political might at the National Palace with the Metropolitan Cathedral. Many had spent the night before sleeping in the Zocalo, just for the chance for a glimpse of Pope Francis as he arrived at the palace or made his way across the plaza to the cathedral.
“Mexico is a great country,” the pope said in his presentation to its political elite, including its young President Enrique Pena Nieto. “It is blessed with abundant natural resources and with an enormous biodiversity that extends across its vast territory. Its privileged geographical position makes it a reference point for America; and its indigenous, mestizo and criollo cultures endow it with its own identity that facilitates a cultural richness not always easy to find and, particularly, to value.”
He warned these political leaders that it was their duty to protect those intangible riches. “A hope-filled future is forged in a present made up of men and women who are upright, honest, and capable of working for the common good, the ‘common good’ which in this twenty-first century is not in such great demand,” he said.
And in a warning to the elite gathered around him, one that cheered the crowd of more humble Mexicans crowded together in the Zocalo, he said, “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, sooner or later the life of 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.”
The pope references a litany of the social problems plaguing contemporary Mexico, detriments which fall hardest on the nation’s most vulnerable people. These are the people Mexico’s leaders have a responsibility not only to protect, but to accompany.
“Leaders of social, cultural and political life have the particular duty to offer all citizens the opportunity to be worthy contributors of their own future,” Pope Francis said, “within their families and in all areas where human social interaction takes place.
“In this way they help citizens to 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.”
In the upcoming days the pope’s itinerary promises to bring a perhaps sometimes uncomfortable focus on these many responsibilities gone unacknowledged for too long by Mexico’s elite as he visits communities plagued by drug trafficking and corruption or where the rights of indigenous people are thwarted by economic and political interests. Miguel Liolá was among those waiting to pass through security to enter the Zocalo. He said he did not expect that the pope’s visit would do much to reduce all the tensions in Mexican society. The number “43” had been graffitied in a number of places within the historic city center, referencing continuing anger related to the still unresolved disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero in September 2014.
“The anger of the people won’t be healed by anyone’s visit,” Liolá. “I don’t think that this visit is intended to keep people less angry or less focused on the the problems that the church itself has or the government has; I think it’s more about showing support for what the people are passing through now."
Noting the political and social significance of the cities the pope has elected to visit, he added, “I think there should be at least some strong messages regarding the inequality in Mexican society or the difference in development in those areas and the violence that’s been [happening] in Michoacan or Guerrero.”
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