Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Warm reception for pope in Mexico

President Felipe Calderon, right, and first lady Margarita Zavala escort Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival in Mexico (AP)
President Felipe Calderon, right, and first lady Margarita Zavala escort Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival in Mexico (AP)
Thousands lined the streets to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Mexico (AP)
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a Mass in Colegio de Miraflores in Leon, Mexico (AP/Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict XVI has landed in Mexico to throngs of faithful who gathered at the tarmac and lined more than 20 miles of his route into the city shouting the ultimate welcome: "Benedict, brother, you are now Mexican."

Many thought such a warm reception, complete with folkloric dance and mariachis, would not greet a pope some consider distant and academic.

But the world's largest Catholic, Spanish-speaking country showed Benedict the same affection as they did to his predecessor, John Paul II, who was dubbed "Mexico's pope" after making five trips to the country.

"This is a proud country of hospitality, and nobody feels like a stranger in your land," the Pope said upon landing to wild cheers. "I knew that, now I see it and now I feel it in my heart."

After his flight landed, the streets of Leon where the pope will stay took on a carnival atmosphere, with entire blocks exploding in yellow confetti as he passed in his bulletproof popemobile along the 20-mile route from the airport.

Earlier on the 14-hour flight from Rome, Benedict called on Mexicans to conquer an "idolatry of money" that feeds drug violence and urged Cuba, where he heads on Monday, to leave behind a Marxism that "no longer responds to reality".

He has spoken out before against drug trafficking, Marxism and authoritarianism in Latin America, including during his 2007 trip to Brazil, his first to the region.

Mexican president Felipe Calderon and first lady Margarita Zavala greeted the Pope at the Guanajuato International Airport in Silao and escorted him along a red carpet amid a clanging of church bells.

Benedict descended the stairs without the cane he had used when he walked to the plane in Rome, the first time he had walked with it in public. In a tarmac speech, Benedict referred again to the everyday violence that ordinary Mexicans confront, saying he was praying for all in need "particularly those who suffer because of old and new rivalries, resentments and all forms of violence".

He said he was coming to Mexico as a pilgrim of hope, to encourage Mexicans to "transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life".

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