The first day of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Mexico, which has begun in the middle of a huge crowd, is coming to an end. After having landed at the airport of Mexico City, the Pope was welcomed by local authorities and by the leaders of the Episcopal Conference. Especially, he was welcomed by thousands of people who were crowding in the streets around the capital’s airport. Bergoglio wrote on Twitter: “In Mexico, I am going to look in the eyes of the Virgin Mary and beg her to continue to look at us with mercy. I entrust my journey to her.”
Francis felt the kindliness of the Mexican people immediately. The welcome ceremony was informal, but enriched with songs and dances. Bergoglio talked to a group of children, waved to the crowd, blessed everyone and received a sombrero as a gift from a Mariachi. A brief conversation with the President of the Republic, Pena Nieto, then in his popemobile, Francis went to the nunciature, where he will stay till his departure for the Vatican. No speeches or meetings: everything is put off till 5 p.m., when the Pope will meet the world of politics, civil society, and the diplomatic corps at the National Palace in Mexico City.
Almost an hour’s drive (19 km), between two wings of the crowd that welcomed Francis. The road was enlightened by thousands of mobile phones that wanted to immortalize the Pontiff. Safety is impeccable: the security service involved 160,000 volunteers called by the organization to offer their help. Twenty thousand police officers who watched over Bergoglio’s safety, though there seems no particular concerns. The cities had begun to prepare weeks ago, repairing all the great boulevards that run through the main districts.
Besides the socio-political aspects of this journey, it is necessary to recall that Francis is in Mexico first of all to pray before the image of the Lady of Guadalupe, “that mystery – as the Pope himself said – for which there are no human explanations”. The icon is located in one of the most visited shrines in the world. The Pope came to Mexico also to invite the local Church to go out and reach the forgotten suburbs, strengthening the work of evangelization. During these hours, many people are looking for the last available tickets for the celebrations. There are about one million and one hundred thousand printed tickets.
After having left the Apostolic Nunciature, Bergoglio reaches the National Palace. A historic event: no Pope had ever entered it before him. In the Patio of honor of the Palace, the Pope was welcomed by the President of the United Mexican States. After the private meeting with the the Pina Nietto and the exchange of gifts, follows the welcome speech for the civil authorities. Nieto says goodbye and thanks Bergoglio for his presence in a country which defends religious freedom. “We need to renew hope in the future,” – the president said, comparing Francis’ visit to a ray of light. The Pontiff thanked, and during his speech reminded that he had come to Mexico as “a missionary of mercy and peace.” He paid tribute to the nation and to the people of Central America, a people that consists mainly of young men and women. “This allows us to think and plan a future, a tomorrow – the Pope says. This gives hope and openness towards the future. A people that is reach in young people is capable of renewal and change.”
Francis left the National Palace heading towards the Cathedral of Mexico City, where he met the local bishops. After a long drive on his Popemobile in the midst of the faithful in the Plaza of the Constitution, upon his arrival to the square, the Pope was welcomed by the Chapter that accompanied him inside the Cathedral at the Altar of Forgiveness, where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. Bergoglio stopped to pray for a few seconds. Before entering the church, the mayor gave him the keys to the city. During the meeting with the Mexican Episcopate, after the greetings with the Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, and the President of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, the Holy Father talked to the bishops.
“It was impossible for me not to come.” With these words began Francis’ speech for his brother bishops. A text with four points and a common thread: the gaze of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A look of tenderness, able to draw people towards God; a look capable of weaving, since God’s are not affected by colors and threads, but are determined by the irreversibility of his love; a careful look: “we must learn that there is something unique in each one of those who looks at us – the Pope told the bishops – in search for God. It is up to us to make ourselves impervious to those glances”; a look of unity: “Mexico sees itself in its entirety. Therefore I invite you to understand that the mission the Church entrusts you with needs this look, which embraces entirety – the Pope concluded -. It cannot be achieved in isolation, but only in communion, and most importantly, he urged the bishops not to surrender ibn front of the scourge of drug trafficking.
Then Bergoglio leaves the Assumption Cathedral of Mexico City to return to the apostolic nunciature where he has lunch with the papal entourage. At 5 p.m. he celebrates Mass in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the culmination of the whole trip. He is the first Bishop of Rome, born in Latin America, to look into the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the image of the mestizo Virgin who is the originator of the identity of the Latin American peoples.
A huge crowd (about 30,000 people) has welcomed Pope Francis in the square in front of the shrine which houses the icon of the Virgin. After having greeted and blessed the faithful from the popemobile, Bergoglio has reached the old church (built in 1500 A.D.), the first Christian church that welcomed the canvas with the image of Our Lady on it. Here the Pontiff has walked in procession along the avenue that connects the old and the new sanctuaries to celebrate Holy Mass.
In front of the gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and of the Americas, the Pope’s thinks about “children, those who suffer, those deprived of their homes, the marginalized, and about all those who feel they do not have a dignified place in these lands”. During Mass, celebrated in the presence of the Head of State Enrique Pena Nieto, recalling the birth of the tradition of Guadalupe and Marian apparitions, Francis reminds that “Mary, the woman of the yes, wanted to visit the inhabitants of this land of America in the person of the indium St. Juan Diego. Like she moved on the streets of Judea and Galilee, she reached Tepeyac, with her clothes, using her tongue, to serve this great Nation.”
“At the dawn of a December day in 1531, the first miracle was taking place which was to become the living memory of all the things kept in this Shrine. At that dawn, in that encounter, God awakened the hope of his son Juan, the hope of his people. “In those first rays of the sun, “God has awakened and awakens the hope of children, the suffering, the homeless and the marginalized, all those who feel they do not have a dignified place in these lands. God has approached and continues to approach the suffering, but resistant hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leave, and whose children were lost or even ended up in the claws of criminality”. The Virgin wanted to build a sanctuary, but we must not forget “the other sanctuary, that of life, that of our communities, societies and cultures, from which no one can be left out. We are all necessary – he concluded -, especially those who normally do not count because they are not good enough”.
After the homily, Francis remains a few minutes praying, looking at the image of the “mestizo” Lady. After the Eucharist, he goes to the so-called “Camarin” which houses the venerated image of the Patroness of the Americas. The Pope prays there alone for about twenty minutes. Embracing a little girl who brought him flowers, a tribute to the Virgin, the Pope, perhaps because of a moment of fatigue, had to sit down on the chair behind him, helped by the people around him. In the Camarin was exposed also the crown made of gold and silver that the Pope brought as a gift to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Twenty minutes of silent prayer face to face with the Mother. Francis keeps the promise he made: “I come to Mexico as a child and a pilgrim to pray in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.” “My deepest wish – he said during the flight Rome-Havana – is to stop in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the mystery we study, study, study, but which has no human explanation. Even the most scientific study says: ‘It is something from God’ “. Then follows the return to the Nunciature.