By Kathleen Naab 

GUANAJUATO, Mexico, MARCH 23, 2012 ( Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico today to the sounds and scenes of an exuberant welcome, as wildly enthusiastic crowds cheered and chanted, "Se ve, se siente, el Papa está presente!" (we can see it, we can feel it, the Pope is here!).

Considering the time change and the 14-hour trip, it must have felt like a never-ending day for the elderly Pontiff, but he seemed to soak up the enthusiasm of the crowds, responding to President Felipe Calderón's welcome address with his own discourse on his hopes for Mexico.

Following his speech and individual greetings to Calderon's cabinet and local Church officials, the Pope took his time blessing, embracing and encouraging a long line of young people, some of them with disabilities, as Calderón's wife accompanied him, helping some of the children to reach the Holy Father. That was followed by a slow drive to the city in the Popemobile, more than 30 kilometers (some 20 miles) from the airport, as more cheering, flag-waving crowds lined virtually the entire path. By the time Benedict XVI was finally installed for the night, it was the wee hours of the morning in Rome.

First speech

Delivered in clear Spanish, though with his voice sounding a little dry, his discourse at the airport indicated some of the salient points of the message the Pontiff will leave in Mexico.

"I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love," the Holy Father said. "I wish to confirm those who believe in Christ in their faith, by strengthening and encouraging them to revitalize their faith by listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and living coherently. In this way, they will be able to share their faith with others as missionaries to their brothers and sisters and to act as a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence based on the incomparable dignity of every human being, created by God, which no one has the right to forget or disregard. This dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity."

Though Mexico's population is more than 80% Catholic, religious liberty in the country continues to face an echo of the restrictions that brought about the Cristero War in the 1920s. 

Regarding the three-fold recipe for revitalizing the faith (coherence, sacraments and the Word of God), the Pope might have alluded in part to Mexico's cultural religiosity, which creates the phenomenon of many Catholics who celebrate popular religious feast days, such as Epiphany or All Souls' Day, but are irregular attendees of Sunday Mass, and poorly catechized.

Changing the world

Benedict XVI also spoke to Mexico, suffering the violent war on drugs, about hope.

"Confidence in God offers the certainty of meeting him, of receiving his grace; the believer’s hope is based on this. And, aware of this, we strive 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," he said. "Yes, hope changes the practical existence of each man and woman in a real way. [...] This country and the entire continent are called to live their hope in God as a profound conviction, transforming it into an attitude of the heart and a practical commitment to walk together in the building of a better world."

The Pope concluded with the promise of prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"I know that I am in a country which is proud of its hospitality and wishes no one to feel unwelcome. I already knew this, and now I can see it and feel it in my heart," he said, as the crowd broke out in cheers. "I sincerely hope that many Mexicans who live far from their homeland will feel the same way and that nothing will cause them to forget it or to lose the wish to see it grow in harmony and in authentic integral development. Thank you!"

--- --- ---

On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text: