Pope Francis admonished Mexico’s political and religious leaders to take on drug violence on Sunday, calling for “true justice” and “prophetic courage” against the scourge afflicting the country.
The Argentine-born pontiff used his visit to the National Palace and the capital’s cathedral to send tough messages to the country’s elite on the first full day of a cross-country tour of some of Mexico’s hotspots.
At the palace, with President Enrique Pena Nieto by his side in a patio packed with lawmakers and government officials, Francis told them political leaders have a duty to give “true justice” and “effective security” to Mexicans.
“Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all ... society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death,” he said.
It was the kind of message that many ordinary Mexicans, fed up with a decade of drug violence that has left more than 100,000 dead or missing, were hoping for.
Mexico was reminded of its troubles on the eve of the pope’s arrival, when 49 inmates were killed in a prison brawl between rival groups in the north of the country.
Thousands of Catholic faithful who stood outside the National Palace in the historic Zocalo square broke into cheers at the Argentine pontiff’s words.
“Bravo! How great that he tells the government the truth,” one woman shouted.
“The pope put the government to shame with everything that he said. Let’s see if Pena Nieto does the right thing,” said Ramiro Sosa, a 56-year-old shopkeeper from the crime-ridden eastern state of Veracruz.
Pena Nieto gave Francis a red-carpet welcome at the ornate palace, making him the first pope to visit the seat of governments that were militantly secular throughout the 20th century.
While Mexico is the world’s second most populous Catholic country after Brazil, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were only restored in 1992.
“It’s the first time that a pontiff is greeted at this historic place. This reflects the good relationship between the Holy See and Mexico,” Pena Nieto said.
“Your presence contributes to the reaffirmation of our collective vocation for peace and brotherhood, for justice and human rights. The pope’s causes are also Mexico’s causes.”
Francis then visited the capital’s Cathedral next door, where he called on Mexican bishops to combat drug trafficking with “prophetic courage.”
“I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church,” the pope said.