MEXICO CITY (REUTERS) – Pope Francis launched a broadside against endemic corruption on Saturday on his first visit to Mexico as pontiff, calling on President Enrique Pena Nieto and his government to combat it.
Corruption is deeply ingrained in Mexico, and Pena Nieto, his wife and finance minister have all been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals involving homes purchased from government contractors.
The Pope also exhorted Mexico’s bishops to take a more active stand against the drug trade, which he said “devours like a metastasis.”
He told them to make it clear to drug dealers that they could not consider themselves good Catholics if their hands were“drenched in blood, but pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened.”
Drug-trafficking gangs have infiltrated police forces across the country and more than 100,000 people have been killed in drug violence over the last decade. Some 26,000 are missing.
“Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privilege 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, the drug trade, the exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death,” the Pope said in a speech to Pena Nieto, the government and foreign diplomats.
He said Mexico’s leaders have a “particular duty” to move past corruption and violence and work for the collective good.
Speaking in his native Spanish before bishops inside the city’s main cathedral, the Argentine-born pontiff urged religious leaders to do more to help migrants, “pouring balm on their injured feet” through social and charity programmes.
“Brothers, may your hearts be capable of following these men and women and reaching them beyond the borders,” he said, calling on Mexico’s Church to strengthen its ties to the US episcopate.
The Pope has made migration one of the central issues of his papacy, and is due to end his visit to Mexico in the notorious northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, where he will meet relatives of victims of violence.
MASS AT VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE
From the US border to the indigenous south, Francis will visit some of Mexico’s poorest and most violent corners on his five-day trip.
Mexico is the world’s second most populous Roman Catholic country and hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join the Pope on Saturday afternoon in a Mass at Mexico City’s basilica for the country’s patroness, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
"'Don’t be afraid,’ that is what she tells me,” the Pope said ahead of his visit, adding that he wanted to reflect silently in front of her image.
Carrying pictures of the Pope and the Virgin of Guadalupe, and wrapped up against the winter chill, thousands converged on Mexico Citys historic centre as the Pope addressed the government at the presidential palace.
“This country needs his blessing. Were really struggling with corrupt politicians, unemployment and drug gangs, and everyone knows it,” said Juanita Lopez, a 58-year-old maid, as she walked to the Zocalo, the capitals main square, clutching a rosary.
The Pope earlier this month urged Mexicans to fight against corruption and brutal drug gang violence. Some Mexicans are looking to him to take that even further while he’s here.
During his visit, the Pope will say mass with indigenous communities in Mexico’s poorest state Chiapas, and speak with young people in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state that has been plagued by violence between drug gangs and armed vigilante groups. In Juarez, he will also visit a prison.
In a reminder of Mexico’s corruption and violence, 49 people were killed in a fight between rival gangs in a prison just days before the Pope’s arrival.