Daniel González and Rafael Carranza, The Arizona Republic2:07 p.m. EST February 13, 2016
Tens of thousands of cheering Mexicans gathered outside the residence where Pope Francis is staying to send him off on his first full day in Mexico. (Feb. 13) AP
(Photo: Julio Cesar Aguilar Fuentes, AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY — Pope Francis called on Mexico’s elected leaders to provide basic rights to their citizens and blamed individualism as the root of the country’s most pressing challenges, including rampant corruption and ongoing drug violence.
Flanked by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the pope addressed congressmen and women, governors and the civil and diplomatic corps in the first of three major events Saturday, the second day of his visit to Mexico.
In his introduction, the president welcomed the pontiff and said his visit meant a lot to the people. He also listed off the challenges the country faced — but notably, made no mention of the violence and drug trafficking that has ravaged the nation.
That wasn’t the case for Francis. During his speech, he pleaded with leaders to shun individualism and work toward the “common good."
“Each time we seek the path of privileges and benefits for the 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,” he said.
The pope, referring to himself as a “missionary of mercy and peace,” also called on elected leaders to guarantee access to basic necessities for all citizens, such as affordable housing, dignified jobs, food security and safety.
After his speech ended, Francis boarded his popemobile and weaved his way through crowds at the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square, toward the Metropolitan Cathedral to meet with Mexican bishops. His day will conclude with a hallmark Mass at one of the Catholicism's largest pilgrimage sites.
Pope Francis, center, is welcomed by Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, center right, and his wife Angelica Rivera, center left, at the Presidential palace in Mexico City, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Gregorio Borgia, AP
Crowds in Mexico City to see pope
Though the pope wouldn't arrive at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for five more hours, thousands of people already lined the main road leading into the basilica's grounds Saturday morning. Some had been there since 5 a.m. or earlier.
As police officers strolled by and soldiers stood guard, the pilgrims sat on stools or stood under umbrellas offering protection from the increasingly hot sun. The atmosphere was increasingly festive and generous. One woman offered pieces of bread from a bag and spoon full of homemade potato salad with peas.
Reporters with television crews combed the crowds, spurring people to break out singing, "Se ve. Se siente. Papa esta presente." Translation: He is seen. He is felt. The pope has arrived.
In the crowd were people from all over Mexico as well as many Latinos who traveled from the United States.
One camera crew from Chicago came prepared with a sign: "Usted Es Chicago."
The rest of the pope's day
Following his audience with bishops, Francis will travel to the nunciature, or Vatican embassy, for a rare two-hour "break," before he continues his packed schedule with one of the highlights of his visit.
At 5 p.m. local time, the pontiff will celebrate Holy Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's beloved and deeply venerated patron saint.
It will be the pope's first time at the basilica. He has previously spoken of his great desire to visit. The Mass is expected to last about two and a half hours and could draw as many as 2 million people, according to organizers.
During the ceremony, the pope will bless the crown that sits atop the tilma, or cloth, at the altar of the basilica as a symbol of veneration.
Tradition states the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe ended up on that same tilma, dating back to the 16th century, when the local bishop demanded proof from an indigenous convert who claimed he had seen the apparition of the Virgin Mary, but with dark skin and dressed in traditional Aztec attire.
Worshipers and onlookers are expected to line the route, including the area near the basilica, to catch a glimpse of the pope as he travels. After the Mass, he will travel back to the nunciature for the night.