Mexico City: February 13, 2016. (PCP) Pope Francis arrived in Mexico last night for a five-day visit to address poverty, violence and migration on a cross-country tour.
President Enrique Pena Nieto greeted him at the capital's airport along with a mariachi band and a huge crowd, hours after Francis held a historic meeting in Cuba with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
From the US border to the indigenous south, Pope Francis will visit some of the poorest and most violent corners of Mexico on his five-day trip and celebrates Mass today before an image of the country’s patroness, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Chronic violence and corruption will be themes of his visit to the world's second most populous Roman Catholic country and he will address the plight of migrants trying to reach the United States with a service at the northern border next week.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join the Pope today at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where pilgrims flock from all over Latin America.
"'Don't be afraid,' that is what she tells me," Pope Francis said ahead of his visit, adding that he wanted to reflect silently in front of her image.
The pope earlier this month urged Mexicans to fight against corruption and grisly drug gang violence. Some Mexicans are looking to him to take that even further.
"We want him to demand that the president kick out all the corrupt people," said Marbella Vargas, whose son Edgar was one of 43 students abducted and apparently massacred in 2014, a grisly case that hammered the government's reputation.
Mexico has been ravaged by drug violence over the past decade, and President Enrique Pena Nieto has been unable to fulfil his promises to put an end to it.
Francis flew into Mexico City on last night for his first visit as leader of the Catholic Church, greeted by cheering crowds, a mariachi band and Pena Nieto.
During his visit, the pope will say Mass with indigenous communities in Mexico's poorest state Chiapas, and speak with young people in Morelia, the capital of Michoacán state that has-been plagued by violence between drug gangs and armed vigilante groups.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug violence over the last decade and some 26,000 are missing.