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Bishops in southern Mexico face threats from organized criminal groups

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Catholic News Service

 

MEXICO CITY - Bishops in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero have suffered threats from organized criminal groups as they serve a region rife with drug cartel activities and parishes located in impoverished indigenous communities where people eke out existences by cultivating opium poppies.

Bishop Maximino Miranda Martinez of Ciudad Altamirano was robbed of his vehicle after encountering a roadblock manned by an armed group in the violent Tierra Caliente region. Bishop Dagoberto Sosa Arriaga of Tlapa, meanwhile, was asked to pay extortion, but escaped making payment as those making the demands were run off by rivals. Read more »

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Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Bishops from across Latin America condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages that have left thousands hungry.

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: "Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her." Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages  (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: “Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her.” Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

“We are worried and pained by the deaths, the violence, the lack of the most basic goods, the divisions, the violation of human rights,” said Auxiliary Juan Espinoza Jimenez of Morelia, Mexico, secretary general of the Latin America bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

Bishop Espinoza spoke during CELAM’s assembly in San Salvador, which brought together Catholic representatives from 21 Latin American countries plus delegations from the United States and Canada. The meeting, which ended May 12 and was themed “A poor church for the poor,” dedicated special attention to the situation in Venezuela.

The conference appointed a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission will be headed by Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez of Cumana, Venezuela, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.

“The bishops, presidents and delegates of the episcopal conferences of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have placed our minds and hearts with our brothers and sisters in Venezuela,” the bishops said in a letter that was read at the meeting. “We want to express to all citizens, and especially those in the Catholic Church, our closeness, solidarity and support, at the same time that we transmit a voice of hope in Christ, way, truth and life.”

The South American country of 31 million has been besieged by a deep political crisis since President Nicolas Maduro moved to expand his power, including taking over the functions of the opposition-controlled congress and, more recently, pushing for the constitution to be reformed.

Weeks of large-scale street demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, leaving nearly 40 people dead and drawing international condemnation. The country has struggled with a deep economic recession and runaway inflation that has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. A survey by a Venezuelan university found about 75 percent of the population had lost an average of 19 pounds last year because of the lack of food.

Bishops Espinoza urged the church to respond to the crisis by providing supplies. “We call on the diocesan communities of Latin America and the Caribbean to initiate initiatives of charity with our Venezuelan brothers and to think about ways to make them effective, despite obstacles that may arise,” he said.

“The Catholic people of Latin America and the Caribbean know well that, in the most difficult moments of their history, we must turn to God with all pity to move forward,” the letter said, urging all churches to “pray for this brother and sister country for a prompt and definitive reconciliation and social peace.”

Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Bishop briefs Tillerson on church’s interest in building the ‘common good’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church’s efforts toward building “the common good.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“After some small talk about Texas,” the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas.

Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know “that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don’t have ulterior motives,” and explaining the bishops’ peace and justice committee’s work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration.

“I have concerns,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good.

“We bring a unique perspective,” said Bishop Cantu. “One of our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes beyond our own church needs.”

Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church’s efforts in Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5 million lives in the region.

Because of the church’s humanitarian agencies, its solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said.

“He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things,” Bishop Cantu said.

“The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out to Central America and Mexico,” said Bishop Cantu.

He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to 28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department’s Food for Peace Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending.

Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church’s concerns with the proposed budget.

“We’re concerned about the very steep increase in the military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we’re very concerned about that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need to be stabilized,” he said, “that those are wise investments of time and funds.”

The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, “and that Christians don’t want to live in a ghetto. … They believe it’s important that they live in an integrated society that is safe and secure,” to have a voice in local, regional as well federal government. He said he also emphasized “the fact that the (Catholic) church in the Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia” and the importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria.

“Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of experience,” Bishop Cantu said. “We have our brothers and sisters there, the church, who do live there. The fact is that … we bring a trusted voice.

“We bring some wisdom to the conversation,” he added. “Our vision is to build a society that’s stable, that’s just, that’s peaceful, and ultimately, that’s the goal of the state department … and so I think that’s why our voice is valuable to them.”

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Priest found dead in northern Mexico, fourth deadly attack of a clergyman in four months

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — A Catholic priest has been found dead in northern Mexico, marking another attack on clergy in a country where the widespread violence of the past decade has not spared church leaders.

The body of Father Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, 42, was discovered Jan. 11 in Parras de la Fuente, approximately 90 miles west of his working-class parish in Saltillo, while his vehicle was discovered abandoned in another state, the Coahuila state prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Details on the disappearance of Father Hernandez remain uncertain, although Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera Lopez said Jan. 11 that two suspects had been arrested.

Father Hernandez was last seen celebrating Mass New Year’s Day at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in a community known as La Aurora and was scheduled to take vacation thereafter.

Colleagues became suspicious when they were unable to reach Father Hernandez on his cellphone, according to a diocesan statement. His room in the parish residence appeared messy, with draws left open and clothing strewn on the floor, uncharacteristic for Father Hernandez, while his suitcase had been left behind, along with his reading glasses.

Neighbors spotted two young men driving away with the priest’s car Jan. 3, but Father Hernandez was not with them. Bishop Vera said two suspects had been arrested, though the authorities had yet to confirm the details.

“All of Mexican society is exposed. Priests are not spared from violence,” said Bishop Vera Lopez, whose diocese has worked tirelessly to provide legal and spiritual support for the families of missing persons in the state of Coahuila, which borders Texas.

Father Hernandez was ordained in 2004, had worked in the diocesan family ministry and was pursuing a master’s degree in family studies at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Study on Marriage and Family at Anahuac University.

“Father Joaquin was someone who searched for perfection in every activity he did; the desire to always innovate in his work was reflected in the love of the faithful, including during these past 10 days,” while he was disappeared, the diocesan statement said.

The disappearance and death of Father Hernandez marks the fourth time in four months that a Mexican priest has been murdered. Another priest, Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, was found alive with signs of torture after being abducted in Veracruz state.

At least 16 priests have been killed since December 2012, according to a count by Mexico’s Catholic Multimedia Center.

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Mexican priest kidnapped, found alive with signs of torture

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — An outspoken priest who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz was found alive, but with signs of torture.

Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish in Catemaco, a town known for witchcraft, some 340 miles southeast of Mexico City, was reported missing Nov. 11, sparking unrest and the ransacking and burning of the city hall by residents impatient with the police response.

Police officers guard the municipal building in Catemaco, Mexico, Nov. 14  after it was set on fire following the disappearance of Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish. The outspoken priest, who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz, was found alive, but with signs of torture. (CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters)

Police officers guard the municipal building in Catemaco, Mexico, Nov. 14 after it was set on fire following the disappearance of Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish. The outspoken priest, who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz, was found alive, but with signs of torture. (CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters)

A statement from the Diocese of San Andres Tuxtla said Father Sanchez was found “abandoned” Nov. 13 “with notable signs of torture.”

Father Aaron Reyes Natividad, diocesan spokesman, told local media that Father Sanchez had received threats via WhatsApp and Facebook, while the doors to the church also appear to have been opened with force. He denounced crime and corruption in Veracruz, where a former governor is currently on the lam for funneling millions of dollars of state money into shell companies, and also rallied residents against high electric bills.

“He was nervous, but nothing stopped him,” Father Reyes told Veracruz news organization blog.expediente.mx.

“We think that a lot of what happened has to do with what the padre said in his sermons,” Father Reyes said. “He gave the names of those responsible for insecurity, stealing from the community and generating poverty.”

The abduction and torture of Father Sanchez marked another case of clergy coming under attack in Mexico, where at least 15 priests have been murdered in the past four years, according to the Centro Catolico Multimedial. Many of the investigations in the killings have left church officials unhappy, but were reflective of a country in which nearly 94 percent of crimes go unreported or uninvestigated, according to a survey by the state statistics service.

In Veracruz, which hugs the country’s Gulf Coast, Fathers Alejo Jimenez and Jose Juarez were kidnapped and killed in September in the city of Poza Rica. Authorities said the priests had been drinking with their attackers prior to falling victim, a version rejected by church officials.

Another priest, Father Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen, was kidnapped and killed in the western state of Michoacan less than a week later. The Michoacan government initially released video footage purportedly showing him in a hotel with a teenage boy, but the family and church officials disputed the claims, forcing a retraction.

Church officials are at a loss to explain the attacks against them, though nearly 150,000 people have died since the country started cracking down on drug cartels and organized crime a decade ago. Priests in rough areas, such as Veracruz, have fallen victim to crimes, and it’s thought the motives for some of the murders include the nonpayment of extortion, robbery and pastors not allowing those in the drug trade to serve as godparents in baptisms.

“The aggressors have lost their respect for God and lost respect for priests, too,” said Father Alejandro Solalinde, an activist priest in southern Mexico on issues of migration and the target of threats from organized crime.

“This priest (in Veracruz) will not return the same,” Father Solalinde said. “He’s going to live in fear, going to live with the effects of this trauma.”

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‘I strive to continue’ — Retired Pope Benedict says he felt a ‘duty’ to resign

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Retired Pope Benedict XVI said in an interview that he felt a “duty” to resign from the papacy because of his declining health and the rigorous demands of papal travel. Read more »

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Pope’s new nuncio to U.S. says he’s ready to listen, learn

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new nuncio to the United States, said he is ready to learn about the Catholic Church in the country and will try his best to be Pope Francis’ emissary, particularly in promoting a church that is close to those who suffer.

Pope Francis talks with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new apostolic nuncio to the United States, during an April 21 meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis talks with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new apostolic nuncio to the United States, during an April 21 meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

The archbishop, who had a private meeting at the Vatican with Pope Francis April 21, gave interviews the next day to the English and the Italian programs of Vatican Radio.

The 70-year-old French native has been in the Vatican diplomatic corps for almost 40 years and said a nuncio’s job is to help the pope fulfill his ministry of building up the local churches, respecting their diversity, while keeping them united with the universal church.

“The difficulty or the challenge,” he said, is “to listen, to be careful about what’s going on, to understand, to exercise dialogue. I think that’s very important, to discover the beauty, the richness of the culture of the people, the way the people live (and) to help the inculturation of the Gospel in a particular culture.”

At the same time, he said, a nuncio’s mission is “to help the pope understand — the pope and those that work with him — to understand what’s going on.”

“The richness of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Pierre said, comes from that combination of valuing peoples and cultures and their local expressions of faith while being united universally.

The archbishop told Vatican Radio’s English program, “I’m quite excited, sometimes fearful,” about leaving Mexico and going to the United States. He said his reaction was “oh” when the pope told him of his new assignment “because it’s such a big country, such a big history, but you know I’m trustful in God and very, very grateful for this mission which is given to me.”

“I know I have to learn in the same way that when I arrived in Mexico nine years ago I had to learn a lot and I’m still learning, so I’m sure that during this year the American people — particularly the bishops, the priests, the religious, the laypeople — will be my teachers,” he said. “I’m ready to learn.”

The first mission the pope gives his nuncios, and the whole church, obviously is to proclaim the Gospel, he said. Next there is “the way the pope wants us and the church to be close to people, especially those who suffer, the poor. This is also what I’ve perceived in what he has told me and I will try my best to be a faithful emissary of the pope.”

Speaking to the Italian program, Archbishop Pierre said being nuncio to the United States is “an enormous, difficult” ministry, but he is ready to take up the task. “The first thing is to learn, to listen, and I think that one of the qualities the pope asks of us is to be able to listen and not go in with preconceived ideas.”

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‘No more death, no more exploitation,’ Pope Francis says at U.S.-Mexico border

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Catholic News Service

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Speaking from the symbolic platform of the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis pleaded for the plight of immigrants while warning those refusing to offer safe shelter and passage that their actions and inhospitable attitudes were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating  Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Recalling the story of Jonah and his instructions from God to save the sinful city of Ninevah by telling the residents that “injustice has infected their way of seeing the world,” Pope Francis’ homily called for compassion, change and conversion on migration issues.

He alluded to Mexico and the United States as Ninevah, the city he said was showing symptoms of “self-destruction as a result of oppression, dishonor, violence and injustice.” He also said mercy was a way to win over opponents.

He also preached urgency.

“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable areas,” Pope Francis said Feb. 17 to hundreds of thousands of people from both sides of the border.

“The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want to measure instead with names, stories and families.”

The Mass capped a six-day trip to Mexico in which Pope Francis traveled to the northern and southern borders and denounced the indignities of discrimination, corruption and violence. During the trip he also asked oft-oppressed indigenous peoples for their forgiveness and chastised the privileged political and business classes, saying their exclusionary actions were creating “fertile ground” for children to fall into organized crime and drug cartels.

Pope Francis delivered his homily a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande, which has swallowed so many migrants over the years as they vainly tried to enter the United States in search of bettering their lot in life and, more recently, escaping violence enveloping Central America.

The Mass was celebrated as a binational event with thousands watching across the Rio Grande in El Paso and in a college football stadium. Pope Francis saluted the crowds watching at the Sun Bowl stadium and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso for providing technological connections that allowed them to “pray, sing and celebrate together” and “make us feel like a single family and the same Christian community.”

The pope focused on migration, along with the dangers migrants encounter en route to their destinations and the difficulties of surviving on the margins of society without protections.

“Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest,” Pope Francis said.

Migration has marked Mexico for generations, though the number of Mexicans leaving the country is now surpassed by those returning, involuntarily or otherwise, as poor job prospects, an increasingly fortified border and anti-immigration initiatives prompt most to stay put.

Ironically, Mexico has assumed an unlikely role over the past several years: enforcer as it detains and deports record numbers of Central Americans trying to transit the country, while many more of those migrants are preyed upon by criminals and corrupt public officials and suffer crimes such as kidnap, robbery and rape. The Mexican crackdown came after thousands of Central American children streamed through Mexico in 2014, seeking to escape forced enlistment in gangs and hoping to reunite with parents living in the shadows of American society, working minimum-wage jobs to support children left with relatives they hadn’t seen in years.

“Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices. … They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said, while lauding the priests, religious and lay Catholics who accompany and protect migrants as they move through Mexico, acts of compassion not always popular with the authorities.

“They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives,” he said. “By their very lives they are prophets of mercy. They are the beating heart and accompanying feet of the church that opens its arms and sustains.”

“They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said. “Injustice is radicalized in the young. They are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and hell of drugs. Then there are the women unjustly robbed of their lives.”

Pope Francis ended his homily by returning to the example of Jonah and his call for conversion in Ninevah. He called “mercy, which always rejects wickedness,” a way to win over opponents, saying it “always appeals to the latent and numbed goodness in every person,” and urged people to follow Jonah’s example.

“Just as in Jonah’s time, so too today may we commit ourselves to conversion,” Pope Francis said. “May we commit ourselves to conversion. May we be signs lighting the way and announcing salvations.”

Ciudad Juarez once held the dubious distinction of “murder capital of the world.” More than 10,000 lives were lost between 2008 and 2012 as drug cartels battled over a coveted smuggling route and young people were seduced by easy money into illegal activities that led to their deaths.

The pope’s visit was promoted by civic officials as a rebirth for Ciudad Juarez, though priests say the city still suffers vices such as exclusion and violence, in lower numbers than before, and jobs with low salaries and long hours in the booming factory for export economy, all of which strain family life.

 

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

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Jesus is the hope of young people who are the wealth of Mexico, pope says

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Catholic News Service

MORELIA, Mexico —Jesus never sends anyone out as a hitman, dealing in death, but calls Christians to be his disciples and friends, Pope Francis told Mexico’s youth.

Young people cheer as Pope Francis leads a meets with them at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium in Morelia, Mexico, Feb. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Young people cheer as Pope Francis leads a meets with them at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium in Morelia, Mexico, Feb. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Today the Lord continues to call you, he continues to draw you to him, just as he did with the Indian, Juan Diego,” to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, he told tens of thousands of young people at Morelia’s Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium Feb. 16.

Dozens of young people carried flags representing every diocese of Mexico present in the packed stadium or watching on big screens set up in a field outside. The pope not only greeted those present in Morelia but also thousands of Mexican youths following the event live from Guadalajara.

Echoing his words to government authorities earlier in the week, the pope reminded the youths that they are the wealth of Mexico and of the church.

“A mountain can have rich minerals that will serve humanity’s progress; that is its wealth. But it only turns into wealth when the miners who take out the minerals work on it. You are the wealth, and you must be transformed into hope,” the pope said, in one of several departures from his prepared speech.

However, Pope Francis recognized the difficulties of recognizing one’s value when material wealth, fashion and prestige become symbols of one’s worth.

“The biggest threat is when a person feels that they must have money to buy everything, including the love of others. The biggest threat is to believe that by having a big car you will be happy,” he said

The pope said belief in Jesus is a sure source of hope and can help youths fight back against the influence of drug dealers “or others who do nothing but sow destruction and death.”

“It is Jesus Christ who refutes all attempts to render you useless or to be mere mercenaries of other people’s ambitions,” he said.

Jesus is the one word of hope that can help young people live fully and do their best for their friends, neighborhoods and communities, he said. While faith may not give them “the latest car model” or “pockets filled with money,” it brings the experience of being loved, embraced and accompanied, which “no one can take away.”

Departing yet again from his speech, the pope recalled a song often sung by mountain climbers.

“While they climb, they sing: ‘In the art of ascending, the victory isn’t in not falling, but in not remaining fallen,’” he said.

The young can be certain that Jesus always will stretch out a hand to help them up, he said. Sometimes he “sends you a brother or sister to speak to you and help you. Don’t hide your hand when you’ve fallen. Don’t tell him: ‘Don’t look at me because I’m all dirty, don’t look at me because I have no hope.’ Just reach out your hand and hold onto his.”

In turn, a young Christian must “stretch out your hand” to help others in Jesus’ name, particularly with “listening-therapy.”

“Let them speak, let them talk. And little by little, they’ll start stretching out their hand and you will help them in Jesus’ name. But if you go in one shot and start preaching, and hitting them over and over , you leave the poor guy worse than he was before,” he said.

Pope Francis urged young Mexicans to remember: “You are the wealth of this country, and when you doubt this, look to Jesus, who destroys all efforts to make you useless or mere instruments of other people’s ambitions.”

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Pope to visit poor communities in Mexico in February

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will visit some of the most marginalized communities in Mexico and seek to bring hope to a country deeply suffering from crime, corruption and inequality when he visits in February.

A covered makeshift bathroom is seen in late October in a low-income neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ciudad Juarez is one of the  marginalized communities Pope Francis will visit in Mexico during his trip in February. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A covered makeshift bathroom is seen in late October in a low-income neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ciudad Juarez is one of the marginalized communities Pope Francis will visit in Mexico during his trip in February. (CNS photo/Reuters)

The Vatican announced Dec. 12 details about the pope’s Feb. 12-17 trip to Mexico, during which he will stop in six cities, including two in the state of Chiapas and, across from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez, which just five years ago was considered the “murder capital of the world” as drug cartels disputed a trafficking corridor.

The pope said in November that he wanted to visit cities where St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI never went. But he said he will stop at the capital of Mexico City to pray at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “But if it wasn’t for Our Lady I wouldn’t” go there, he had told reporters.

The pope will fly out of and return to Mexico City each day after celebrating Mass at the basilica on the second day of his trip.

Over the following four days, he will visit a pediatric hospital in the capital as well as families and indigenous communities in the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, which gained worldwide attention for the 1990s Zapatista rebellion.

He will visit young people and religious in Morelia, celebrate Mass on the Mexican-U.S. border in Ciudad Juarez and visit its infamous Cereso state prison, where at least 20 people were killed during riots in 2009 triggered by rival gangs among the prisoners.

“We are certain that the presence of the Holy Father will confirm us in the faith, hope and charity and will help the church move ahead in its permanent mission,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a Dec. 12 statement. “It will encourage believers and nonbelievers and commit us to the construction of a just Mexico, with solidarity, reconciliation and peace,” the statement said.

Father Oscar Enriquez, parish priest and director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center in Ciudad Juarez, told Catholic News Service that Juarez is often seen as an example of overcoming extreme violence. “The pope always looks for the peripheries. Juarez is the periphery of Mexico and it’s a place migrants pass through.”

Father Patricio Madrigal, pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the Michoacan city of Nueva Italia said by visiting Morelia, the pope “wants to be closer to an area beaten down by violence. He wants to bring comfort and also closeness.”

The pope’s meeting with young people and religious in Morelia is important, Father Madrigal told CNS, as the church there works to keep kids out of the cartels and provide priests with support and “strengthen us in the faith and our work in attending to victims of violence.” Priests in the rugged Tierra Caliente region there had lent moral and spiritual support to vigilantes arming themselves to run off a drug cartel in 2013.

Pope Francis “wants to give young people a message of hope and that they stay away from the temptation of violence,” the priest said.

Here is the pope’s itinerary as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses. The places the pope will visit are on Central Time except Ciudad Juarez, which is on Mountain Time.

Friday, Feb. 12 (Rome, Mexico City)

— 12:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

— 7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) Arrival at “Benito Juarez” International Airport in Mexico City. Officials to greet pope.

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Mexico City)

— 9:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at the National Palace. Courtesy visit with the president of the republic.

— 10:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.) Meeting with representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps. Speech by pope.

— 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.) Meeting with Mexico’s bishops in the city’s cathedral. Speech by pope.

— 5 p.m. (6 p.m.) Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Homily by pope.

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Mexico City, Ecatepec, Mexico City)

— 9:20 a.m. (10:20 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Ecatepec.

— 10:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m.) Mass in the area of the “study center” of Ecatepec. Homily by pope. Pope recites Angelus.

— 12:50 p.m. (1:50 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Mexico City.

— 1:10 p.m. (2:10 p.m.) Arrival in Mexico City.

— 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Visit to the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital of Mexico. Greeting by pope.

— 6 p.m. (7 p.m.) Meeting in the National Auditorium with representatives of culture. Speech by pope.

Monday, Feb. 15 (Mexico City, Tuxtla Gutierrez, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico City)

— 7:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Tuxtla Gutierrez.

— 9:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to San Cristobal de Las Casas.

— 10:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.) Mass at the city’s sports center with the indigenous community from Chiapas. Homily by pope.

— 1 p.m. (2 p.m.) Lunch with representatives of the indigenous community and the papal entourage.

— 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) Visit to the cathedral of San Cristobal de Las Casas.

— 3:35 p.m. (4:35 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Tuxtla Gutierrez.

— 4:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m.) Meeting with families at the Victor Manuel Reyna Stadium at Tuxtla Gutierrez. Speech by pope.

— 6:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m.) Departure by plane for Mexico City.

— 8 p.m. (9 p.m.) Arrival at the Mexico City airport.

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Mexico City, Morelia, Mexico City)

— 7:50 a.m. (8:50 a.m.) Departure by airplane for Morelia.

— 10 a.m. (11 a.m.) Mass with priests, seminarians, religious men and women, and consecrated persons. Homily by pope.

— 3:15 p.m. (4:15 p.m.) Visit to the city’s cathedral.

— 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Meeting with young people at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium. Speech by pope.

— 6:55 p.m. (7:55 p.m.) Departure by plane for Mexico City.

— 8 p.m. (9 p.m.) Arrival in Mexico City.

Wednesday, Feb. 17 (Mexico City, Ciudad Juarez)

— 8:35 a.m. (9:35 a.m.) Departure by plane for Ciudad Juarez.

— 10 a.m. (12 p.m.) Arrival at Abraham Gonzalez International Airport in Ciudad Juarez.

— 10:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.) Visit to Cereso prison. Speech by pope.

— 12 p.m. (2 p.m.) Meeting with workers and employers at the Colegio de Bachilleres of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Speech by pope.

— 4 p.m. (6 p.m.) Mass at the fairgrounds of Ciudad Juarez. Homily and greeting by pope.

— 7 p.m. (9 p.m.) Departure ceremony at the Ciudad Juarez International Airport.

— 7:15 p.m. (9:15 p.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.

Thursday, Feb. 18 (Rome)

— 2:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino Airport.

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Contributing to this story was David Agren in Mexico City.

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