LEON, Mexico, (Reuters) – Pope Benedict at a huge outdoor Mass yesterday condemned drug trafficking and corruption in Mexico, urging people to renounce violence in the country where a brutal war between cartels has killed tens of thousands of people.
On his last day in Mexico, the pope said Mass for a vibrant crowd that organizers estimated at more than 600,000 people in a sprawling park on the edge of Leon, a central city which has escaped the worst of the criminal violence plaguing the country.
Wearing purple and white vestments, the 84-year-old pope addressed the biggest crowd of his Latin American trip from a massive white altar platform on a hillside, sprinkling his sermon with words such as conversion and reconciliation.
Many in the crowd covered their heads with hats, sheets and umbrellas against the blazing sunshine as Benedict prayed that Mexicans would be given the strength “to boldly promote peace, harmony, justice and solidarity.”
A spiral of lawlessness has menaced Mexico in the past five years, and many Catholics converging on Leon said they wanted words of hope from the German pontiff.
He said before arriving that he planned to “unmask the evil” of drug trafficking and yesterday he again addressed the chaos of the turf wars and clashes between drug cartels and the state that have killed more than 50,000 people since 2007.
In his noon prayer, he said Mexicans should look to their faith “at this time when so many families are separated or forced to emigrate, when so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime.”
Benedict also urged them to set aside “futile acts of revenge” and banish all hatred.
Long lines of people, many praying, singing and carrying pictures of the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron, flooded into the Mass site for hours.
Some camped out for more than a day to get a good spot at the event, the highlight of Benedict’s three days in the world’s second-most populous Roman Catholic country.
As the pontiff toured the crowd in a “popemobile,” he donned a black-and-white sombrero, to the delight of the crowd.
Benedict, who leaves for Cuba on Monday, is making only his second visit to Latin America since his 2005 election. The region is home to about half of the world’s Catholics and his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul, visited about once a year.
Benedict reached the Mass on Sunday by helicopter, flying by a giant hilltop monument with the statue of Christ the King, a symbol of the often stormy religious past of Mexico, which was officially anti-clerical for years after a revolution that began in 1910.
The archbishop of Leon, Jose Martin Rabago, set the tone for the day by spelling out the impact of the violence in Mexico.
“In the past few years we have been living through events of violence and death that have generated a painful sensation of fear, helplessness and grief,” he said in his welcome address.