‘There is still time to change,” Pope Francis told the people of Mexico, as he called for “conversion” six times during the homily at his final Mass in Ciudad Juárez, on the border with the United States. His insistence on the need for conversion and change has been the leitmotif of his speeches throughout the six-day visit to this country, but it was particularly striking how strongly it featured in the three main talks on his last day in Mexico, Feb. 17.
It was the common thread linking his talk to 3,000 prisoners at El Cereso prison, his address to more than 1,000 business and labor leaders at the Colegio de Bachilleres of the state of Chihuahua and his homily at a Mass attended by more than 200,000 people on the fairgrounds 90 yards from the border with the United States. The homily had a message for those on the other side, as well. One could describe these discourses as part of a triptych painted by Francis, as he sought to send a “wake-up call” to Mexico (and the wider world) to change course urgently and respect human dignity.
He compared the way people lived in the biblical city of Nineveh and way they live in Mexico today. Nineveh, he said, “was self-destructing as a result of oppression and dishonor, violence and injustice,” and “its days were numbered because the violence within it could not continue.”
But God did not wish to destroy the city and in his mercy sent the prophet Jonah “to help” its citizens “understand” that destruction would surely come if they continued with “the way they treat each other…only creating death and destruction, suffering and oppression.” Recalling how the king and people of Nineveh repented and wept for their wrongdoing, Francis told his Mexican audience that “to weep over injustice, to cry over corruption, to cry over oppression” is the path “to transformation.”
During his visit to Mexico, and especially in his homily in Ciudad Juárez, Francis appeared to take on the mantle of Jonah as he set out “to help” the Mexican people—but also those north of the border—to understand the great suffering that comes with involuntary migration, describing it as a humanitarian crisis that is now “a global phenomenon.”
Pope Francis asked people to pray to God for “the gift of conversion, the gift of tears” and “to hear his call in the suffering faces of countless men and women.” He appealed for “No more death! No more exploitation!”
Going off script at the end of his homily, Pope Francis said, “I wish to use the opportunity of this moment to greet our brothers and sisters who are simultaneously accompanying us at the other side of the border.... Thanks to the help of technology, we can pray, sing and celebrate together the merciful love that the Lord gives us, and which no border can prevent us from sharing. Thank you, brothers and sisters of El Paso, for having made us feel one only family and one same Christian community.”