Pope Francis will set out on his 12th foreign journey on Feb. 12, this time heading for Mexico, the second most populous Catholic country in the world (after Brazil) where some 90 percent of its 125 million population are Catholic.
“The Holy Father wanted to visit the country from border to border and to meet with people who are living through difficult situations,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the nuncio, told Noticias MVS. He mentioned two, poverty and migration; but there are others also of great concern to Francis, like the narcotics trade, violence (much of it linked to drugs), corruption and criminality. He is expected to speak on all these.
Pope Francis comes as “a missionary of mercy and peace” on his fourth trip to Latin America, to a country that according to the nuncio is “living through a transition” and to a “secularized” society in a profound crisis. Although the culture is changing, and this inevitably affects the faith, popular religiosity is still deeply rooted, and Francis will affirm this.
Archbishop Pierre said the pope told him he desires to partake in the people’s reality: “He desires a simple, straightforward encounter.” The nuncio added: “He knows very well the fervor of the Mexican people. He is very spontaneous and will surely give us some surprises of which we are not yet aware. Much space must be given to these surprises.”
Invited to speak to Mexico’s congress, Francis decided against it. Some 35 cities or towns invited him, but he opted for six localities, three on the peripheries: Mexico City (and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Ecatpec (15 miles from the federal capital), Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de Las Casas (in the southern state of Chiapas, bordering Guatemala), Morelia (in the western state of Michoacán, home to much violence), and Ciudad Juárez (in the northern state of Chihuahua, on the border with the United States). From there he will return to Rome.
On this physically demanding foreign trip, Francis will cover 14,641 miles (2,236 inside the country), spend five nights in Mexico City, deliver 13 speeches and celebrate five Masses.
On Feb. 13, the day after his arrival, he will pay a courtesy call to Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and thus become the first pope to be received at the Presidential Palace, a building directly linked to the Mexican revolution. Afterward he will address the civic authorities and diplomatic corps and then speak to the country’s 170 bishops in the cathedral. That evening he will celebrate Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
On Sunday, Feb. 14, he will celebrate Mass at Ectapepec and later visit a pediatric hospital. Next day he will fly to Chiapas. His decision to come here is highly significant, as this is a state on the margins of Mexican society with a high percentage of indigenous peoples, many living in extreme poverty. The Zapatista revolt of the late 20th century originated here. Here too, Bishop Samuel Ruiz carried out his pastoral ministry with great zeal and creativity after the Second Vatican Council, despite differences with Rome. Francis will pray at his tomb in the cathedral of San Cristóbal de Las Casas after celebrating Mass for the indigenous population in a sports center. He is expected to affirm their cultures and highlight their care of the environment. Later he will return to the state capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, for a meeting with families.
On Feb. 16, Francis will fly to Morelia to celebrate Mass for priests, religious and seminarians. That afternoon, he will speak to young people. It will be an important talk, since 28.2 percent of Mexico’s population are under the age of 18 and face many problems, including unemployment, drugs and violence.
The high point of the pope’s visit comes on the last day in Ciudad Juárez. He will visit the local prison on arrival and greet 800 inmates, but the main event is the Mass on the border with the United States at which Francis is expected to speak out strongly on the immigration question. There is enormous interest in what he will say and do here.
More than 4,000 journalists from all over the world have been accredited in Mexico for his visit. Seventy-five are travelling with him on the plane, including America’s Vatican correspondent, who will provide on-the-spot coverage.