Last updated: 03:48 PM ET, Thu May 05 2016

Pope Francis’ Mexican Trip Brings Hope

Features & Advice | Mexico Tourism Board | Dawna L. Robertson | February 18, 2016

Pope Francis’ Mexican Trip Brings Hope

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

It’s a no brainer that when and where Pope Francis travels, he attracts massive crowds.

The Argentinian-born pontiff concluded an impassioned, symbolic six-day pilgrimage through Mexico on Wednesday–one that traced the path of migrants entering the country from bordering Guatemala in the south and forging north toward Ciudad Juarez and the Rio Grande River separating Mexico from the United States’ El Paso, Texas.

The first pope from the Americas mapped his trip through Mexico to replicate the route taken by migrants–southern Chiapas state, where Central Americans arrive on their way to the U.S.; Michoacán, source of a large percentage of Mexican immigrants to Southern California and elsewhere; and now, the U.S.-Mexico border at Ciudad Juarez and El Paso.

While this was the Pope Francis’ second North America visit within six months, his Feb. 12-17 Mexico itinerary carried a much different tone. Rather than tourism hot spots that stand as U.S. icons, the Pope’s Mexico itinerary traveled to areas where drug violence and immigration issues have forced tourism onto a back burner.

Of Mexico’s nearly 113 million residents, some 85 percent identify as Catholic–making it the world’s second most populous Catholic country after Brazil. Yet, governments throughout most of the 20th century were militantly secular and had less than smooth ties with the Church.

READ MORE: Pope Francis Flies American Airlines

The Roman Catholic Church leader’s message during the whirlwind jaunt was one of peace and unity, carrying a focus on the plight of immigrants crossing through Mexico to reach the United States.

With Mexico City as a base, Pope Francis prayed on Friday at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. He used his visit to the National Palace and the capital's cathedral on Saturday to bluntly tell political and religious leaders to make a stronger effort for bringing peace to the country. On Sunday, Pope Francis led a massive outdoor Mass in Ecatepec, one of the many Mexico City suburbs impacted by crime.

On Monday in the southern state of Chiapas that borders Guatemala, the Pope held Mass in San Cristóbal de las Casas and visited with families in capital city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Home to a large indigenous population, Chiapas is considered among nature aficionados as one Mexico’s most attractive areas for its abundance of wilderness engulfed by a constant carpet of greens and turquoises reflecting its rich fertile soil.

READ MORE: Pope's Visit Puts Cuba in The Spotlight For US Travelers

Pope Francis visited Michoacán’s capital of Morelia on Tuesday, where he made his plea during a Mass with more than 20,000 clergymen and seminarians. Hit by drug violence, this beautiful city is regaled for its colonial heart so well preserved that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

It was only fitting that the Pope made Ciudad Juarez the final stop. On Mexico's northern border across from El Paso, this former drug war zone is cleaning up its act on the cartel front. Yet, it remains snarled by immigration issues.

As he prepared to pray at the Rio Grande on Wednesday, a delegation of women and leaders began a daylong journey from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez to deliver a message of welcome and compassion for migrants and refugees. Women from across the U.S also held their own walks in solidarity with kindred spirits at the border.

Before he went to the altar for Mass, the Pope climbed a ramp facing the United States and acknowledged the 500 migrants standings on a levee in El Paso.

When he departed Ciudad Juarez International Airport Wednesday evening, Pope Francis wrapped up more than simply his first visit to the country of Mexico. He continues on a path to achieve his goal of serving as an inspiration for human dignity and the end of violence that has paralyzed much of Mexico’s border areas.  

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