Pope Francis’s first visit to Mexico as the leader of the Roman Catholic church is set to challenge many of the North American nation’s problems while offering hope to its tens of millions of Catholics.
Francis, making the first papal tour of Mexico since Pope Benedict XVI’s in 2012 – and only the seventh papal visit ever – followed his historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill while in a Cuban airport Friday with his arrival in Mexico later that day. The encounter with Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, was the first ever between a Catholic Pope and an Orthodox Patriarch and established a new working relationship between the two leaders that has not been seen since Christianity broke between East and West more than 1,000 years ago.
“It is with joy that we have met like brothers,” the two leaders write in a joint statement released Friday.
“We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be ‘in harmony with one another’,” they said. “It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation [of] wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox.”
After his meeting with Kirill, Francis traveled to Mexico City to begin his nearly week-long tour of the Latin state. His arrival was met with an enthusiastic crowd of an estimated 1 million Mexicans who turned out to greet his motorcade Saturday, while his admonition of the country’s top political and religious leaders was not always as enthusiastically received.
“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,” Francis said to members of the Mexican government, including President Enrique Pena Nieto, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reported a similar message from the pontiff was addressed to Catholic bishops later on Saturday, urging their aid in order for Mexicans to be able to “finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened.”
Aside from meeting with the country’s leaders, Francis will stop for mass and worship with Mexico's citizens throughout the week. Along the way, he will also mark several of the country's largest problems including violence, migration, poverty, and crime with visits in areas most affected by them.
The first of these destinations was Ecatepec, a suburb of Mexico City that has recently seen a boom in gang violence coupled one of the highest murder rates in the nation. There, Francis held what is expected to be the largest mass of his Mexican visit.
For the rest of his trip, Francis is set to preach to natives in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the areas most heavily populated by indigenous people in the country. That region is also one of the poorest in Mexico.
Francis will again address the violence experienced throughout Mexico when he meets with victims in the central city of Morelia. He will also visit a prison and hold a cross-border mass in Ciudad Juárez to mark the deaths of Mexican migrants trying to reach the United States.