Pope Francis will culminate his six-day visit to Mexico with a final stop at Ciudad Juárez, along the US-Mexico border, an event many say will draw attention to the US political debate about immigration.
The event will also include a visit to Ciudad Juarez prison just days after a riot in another lockup killed 49 inmates
Since he arrived in Mexico, Francis has offered pointed critiques of the failings in Mexico's government and society, denouncing the widespread culture of corruption and calling on the Catholic Church in the country to do more than simply denounce drug trafficking. In his visit to the indigenous region in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, he asked for forgiveness over what he called their systematic exclusion from society.
Yet it is the visit to the Mexican border city, plagued by violence in recent years, that is drawing significant attention, largely because of the current political climate in the United States and the highly debated issue of immigration.
His plan to visit the area has already drawn criticism from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. On the eve of his visit to Mexico, Mr. Trump called the pontiff “a very political person.”
“I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico,” Trump said in an interview with Fox. “I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They’re making a fortune, and we’re losing.”
The migrant crisis happening amid the 2016 presidential campaign has sparked a controversial immigration debate with Trump promising to make Mexico build a border wall if elected as president, while many of his Republican presidential rivals have vowed to implement anti-immigration measures.
Indeed, the pontiff makes his immigration stance no secret. In his recent visit to see arrived migrants on the island of Lampedusa last week, Francis denounced the suffering and rejected the "globalization of indifference."
But for others, the Pope's visit to the region is significant in giving “voice to these often voiceless people here on the border, especially children and families who are the most vulnerable.”
Ciudad Juarez, once deemed the murder capital of the world, has suffered some of the worst violence during the government’s crackdown on drug cartels, which has seen tens of thousands of people killed since the state operation began in 2006.
But things have been changing, despite the years of violence. According to the International Business Times, the “murder rate has dropped by nearly 40 percent in two years and a handful of new restaurants, stores and entertainment venues across the city offer the promise of a bright future.”
Yet the city’s negative perception has persisted, underscoring the significance of the Pope’s visit, as many hope that he will use the moment in the international spotlight to “persuade the world that it is once again open for business,” the Times reported.
“For the pope, it is very important to send this message and call attention to the thousands of people [leaving home], and not just in Mexico, because it’s a situation happening across the world,” said Maria Soledad Loaeza Tovar, a professor at the College of Mexico and an expert in foreign relations, according to The Washington Post. “He emphasizes the theme of the marginalized, of the excluded, of those who feel isolated, who feel they’re not part of society.”
“The influence that the pope can have is to remind us that we are all migrants,” said the Rev. Nicolas Villanueva Arellano, a priest in the Tijuana archdiocese whose father was a resident in California, according to the Post. “More than building walls, we should be trying to build bridges.”