Journeys of kilometers and kilometers in an open popemobile; meetings with young people, families, clergy, authorities and indigenous peoples; moving moments such as the greeting to migrants beyond the border that separates Mexico and the United States; visits to a paediatric hospital of oncological sick – all after the historic ‘off the program’ trip to Cuba for the meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill.
Planned is a rather intense visit of Pope Francis to Mexico, beginning Friday and lasting through Feb. 18. For the seventh time a Pontiff will trend the soil of the Aztec country, after five trips of John Paul II and one of Benedict XVI in 2012, the last trip of his Pontificate.
“It is always a pleasure to meet the Mexicans,” said Father Federico Lombardi, illustrating in the Vatican Press Office the stages of this 12th international trip of the current pontificate. Imprinted in the Vatican spokesman’s memory are the images of the great welcome that the Mexican population gave Wojtyla, whose first apostolic journey was in fact to Mexico in 1979.
“An incredible memory,” he said, of the Polish Pope who passed through an enormous crowd of “people that wept, laughed, shouted and greeted. I think something similar will happen with Pope Francis.” Or, perhaps, even more, considering the great love that this country has for the Pontiff, the first Latin American pope. So much so, stressed Father Lombardi, that there is “no concern about his security. They all love the Pope and no one intends to threaten him.”
The first stage of Francis’ trip will be Mexico City, where he will land at the Benito Juarez International Airport on Friday at 7:30 pm local time. “A simple ceremony” is planned there with the President of the Republic, Enrique Peña Nieto, accompanied by the First Lady, without an official address. No particular event is planned for the evening, except for the rather long — close to 19-kilometer (11-mile) — transfer in the popemobile to the Nunciature.
The program will begin officially the next day, Saturday, February 13, with the arrival at the National Palace for the welcoming ceremony and the courtesy visit to the Head of State, which will be followed by a meeting with the Authorities, civil society, and the Diplomatic Corps in the main patio – in total, 1,200 people. Planned, as usual, is the President’s address and that of the Pope “of a more political character.”
Planned also for the morning is a meeting with the numerous Bishops of Mexico (more than 120) in the nearby Cathedral of the Assumption.
The Pope will pause in the great Square in front of the Cathedral, which can hold 80,000 people, and he will meet in the Cathedral with the family of the Head of the Federal District government and representatives of other religious confessions.
After lunch in the Nunciature, one of the most important events of the whole trip will take place: the visit to the Basilica of Guadalupe, where the image of the Virgin is kept. Francis will celebrate Mass in the Basilica before 20,000 people. The celebration will end with the crowning of Our Lady with a diadem. Then the Pope will recite “a very beautiful prayer.” Immediately after, the Pontiff will pause in the camarin where the Marian image is kept, as “he wants to pray tranquilly, personally, in silence, without any pressure of plans,” explained Father Lombardi. And he mentioned the Pope’s express desire to visit dioceses and regions different from those of his predecessors.
“We seek new destinations,” said the Holy Father, who on Sunday, February 14, the first Sunday of Lent, will be at Ecatepec, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Mexico City. The Pope will arrive there by helicopter to celebrate Mass in the enormous field of a Center of Studies, for which some 400,000 people are registered. Given the intense cold (at 2,000 meters of altitude, the name itself, Ecatepec, means”windy hill”), it was decided to fix the time of the Mass at 11:30 am in order to avoid people having to spend the night there.
Returning after lunch to Mexico City, at 5:20 pm Pope Francis will go to the famous “Federico Gomez” paediatric hospital, also visited by Pope John Paul II, where several children are recovering from serious oncological illnesses — a moment that is expected to be “moving,” observed Father Lombardi.
The program of February 15 has a trip to Chiapas and the meeting with the indigenous populations. The Pope will also go to the southern border with Central America, from which migrants enter. This will also be a symbolic moment, which will be followed by a trip of almost two hours to Tuxtla Gutierrez and, immediately after, to San Cristobal de las Casas, historic capital, which takes its name from Bishop Bartolome de las Casas, a very important figure in the country, committed to the defense of the Indians.
Francis will dedicate his whole visit to the indigenous peoples, with a Mass for 100,000, dotted with songs and readings in three local languages. On that occasion, Francis will authorize, with an official decree, the use of the Indian languages in the liturgy.
It will be followed by lunch with the indigenous and, in the afternoon, with a visit to the Cathedral for the homage to Our Lady and the embrace of the elderly and the sick. Then the Pope will return to Tuxtla Gutierrez for the great meeting with families in the Victor Manuel Reina Stadium at 4:00 pm. During the meeting, there will be the testimonies of four families “in rather difficult situations.”
The destination on February 16 is Morelia, in the state of Michoacan, a place sadly famous for its problems of violence and drug trafficking. At 9:20 am the Pontiff will celebrate Mass with priests, religious and seminarians. At 3:00 pm he will go to the Cathedral for the meeting in the courtyard with 14 rectors of Mexican Universities, six leaders of other religions and numerous catechism children.
The last meeting in the Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon Stadium will be with tens of thousands of young people. “There is talk of 50,000,” said Father Lombardi — youth who are ready to dance, sing and offer their testimony to the Pope. At the end of the event, the Bishop of Rome will be given a document on evangelization of the young people of Mexico, prepared by youth ministry; in turn, the Pope will give them the Cross for the mission.
The last day, Wednesday, February 17, is highlighted as the most significant. The stage is Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, a territory also marked by drug trafficking, crowds of migrants, and social and human problems.
There will be three events, mentioned Father Lombardi. The first is a visit to a place of detention, the CeReSo, center of social re-adaptation that houses some 3,000 detainees; 700 of them will meet with the Pope in the Chapel. The second meeting is that in the Sports Palace with the world of work: there also some 3,000 people are expected representing entrepreneurs and employees. Also present will be a delegation of the Popular Movements.
Finally, Pope Bergoglio will go to the Exhibition Area of Ciudad Juarez, at the border with the USA, where migrants try to cross to the hope of a better future. The most thought-provoking photogram will be the Pope’s greeting to 50,000 people, behind the barrier that separates the two States, who will take part in the Mass and receive Communion. “After all, it is a net, not a Chinese wall,” said Father Lombardi.
Also present at the celebration will be several groups of victims of violence — a total of some 200,000 people — among whom will be relatives of the 43 students who disappeared almost a year and a half ago, and who have almost certainly been killed. The event at Ciudad Juarez will be the last of the trip. Francis will give his farewell greeting there and then go to the airport for the return trip to Rome.
In the Pope’s entourage will be the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin; Cardinal Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and, in addition, three Mexican prelates and Cardinal Koch, now in Cuba for the meeting with Patriarch Kirill. Present, as usual, will be a Vatican lay dependent: one of the fire-fighters, “hoping — joked Father Lombardi — that there won’t be a need for him to intervene.”