Sinners, convert, pope tells violence-racked Mexico
By Sandra Parra Mar 26, 2012, 2:43 GMT
Silao, Mexico - Pope Benedict XVI delivered a message of mercy as he addressed hundreds of thousands of people at an open-air Mass near the central Mexican city of Silao.
In what was regarded as the main event of his four-day trip, the German-born Benedict highlighted 'the infinite mercy of the Lord, who does not wish the sinner to die but to convert and live.'
About 50,000 people have died in Mexico over the past five years in incidents linked to organized crime as a wave of drug-related violence has ravaged the country. The pope did not specifically refer to such troubles but acknowledged these 'times of sorrow as well as hope.'
'When addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us,' he said in Bicentennial Park, at the foot of the Cerro del Cubilete. 'We must have recourse to the one who alone can give life in its fullness because he is the essence of life and its author.'
Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said 640,000 people were at the site. Mexican parishes handed out 300,000 free tickets for the service, but thousands more worshippers showed up without tickets to witness the event from nearby mountainsides.
Benedict donned a mariachi hat as he drove past the crowd before Mass in his popemobile. The gesture reminded many of his predecessor John Paul II (1978-2005), who visited Mexico five times and also donned the hat on several occasions.
Signs that said, 'Benedict, welcome to your new home,' were seen in the crowd, which gathered under an intense sun. Some shed tears as they caught a glimpse of the pontiff.
'Benedict, brother, now you are a Mexican,' which has become the favourite slogan of the pope's Mexican trip, was heard frequently, as it has been since the pontiff arrived in the country Friday.
Benedict, to whom many observers have attributed a lack of charisma in comparison to John Paul II, appeared to be sharing the enthusiasm of his audiences in Mexico, which has the world's second-largest Roman Catholic population after Brazil. He spent portions of it greeting and blessing the sick and cradling babies.
In a surprise Sunday night, he donned a white sombrero and left the convent school in Leon where he had been staying to listen to mariachi musicians play on the street.
'Never have I been received with such enthusiasm,' Benedict told jubilant supporters there. 'Now I can say that Mexico will always remain in my heart.'
His final full day in Mexico, which he is to leave Monday for Cuba, included a flight in a Mexican military helicopter over a giant statue of Christ with arms outstretched at the top of the Cerro del Cubilete.
The 20-metre statue, said to be the world's largest made of bronze, rises 2,579 metres above sea level.
The statue was erected at the end of the Cristero War (1926-29), in which thousands rose against the anti-clerical provisos of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. The war claimed thousands of lives.
After the Mass, Benedict addressed Latin American bishops during Vespers at the Leon cathedral.
'The Catholic faith has significantly marked the life, customs and history of this continent, in which many nations are commemorating the bicentennial of their independence,' the pope said.
The pope told bishops to look after the priests and the lay faithful in their dioceses, so 'that sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust are avoided.'
Benedict's stay in Cuba is to last less than 48 hours. He is to visit Santiago de Cuba and Havana. The pope was due back in Rome Thursday.
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