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Pope urges Mexicans to seek justice

Pope Benedict XVI has urged Mexicans to wield their faith against drug violence, poverty and other ills, celebrating Sunday Mass before a sea of hushed worshippers in a visit that has warmed many Mexicans to a pontiff they often saw as austere.

Many in the crowd said they were gratified by Benedict's recognition of their country's problems and said they felt reinvigorated in what they described as a daily struggle against criminality, corruption and economic hardship.

The pope delivered the message to an estimated 350,000 people against the backdrop of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Christianity.

The statue recalls a 1920s Catholic uprising against the anti-clerical laws that forbade public worship services such as the one Benedict celebrated.

Enthusiastic crowds greeted Benedict as he arrived in his popemobile.

"We pray for him to help us, that there be no more violence in the country," said Lorena Diaz, 50, who owns a jeans factory in nearby Leon. "We pray that he gives us peace."

With his first visit to Mexico, the pontiff appeared to lay to rest doubts that he was a distant, cold pope who could never compare to the charisma and personal connection that his predecessor, John Paul II, forged over his five visits to Mexico.

Many Mexicans said they were surprised by their depth of feeling for Benedict. He even charmed the crowd by donning a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero.

"Some young people rejected the pope, saying he has an angry face. But now they see him like a grandfather," said Cristian Roberto Cerda Reynoso, 17, a seminarian from Leon. "I see the youth filled with excitement and enthusiasm."

Before the ceremony, the vast field was filled with noise, as people took pictures with mobile phones and passed around food. But as the Mass started, all fell silent, some dropping to their knees in the dirt and gazing at the altar or giant video screens.

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