Pope buoys the hopes ofmex­i­cans

Pon­tiff cel­e­brates Mass in vi­o­lence-plagued na­tion; Cuba next on Latin tour


SI­LAO, MEX­ICO | Pope Bene­dict XVI ad­dressed hun­dreds of thou­sands of Mex­i­cans seek­ing a mes­sage of hope for their vi­o­lence-plagued coun­try at an open-air Mass on Sun­day, say­ing re­new­ing their hearts and faith would help them in trou­bled times.

He urged Chris­tians “to look deeply into the hu­man heart, es­pe­cially in times of sor­row as well as hope, as are the present times for the peo­ple of Mex­ico and of Latin Amer­ica.” He spoke in the shadow of the Christ the King mon­u­ment, one of the most im­por­tant sym­bols of Mex­i­can Catholi­cism.

Bene­dict com­pared the need for a “pure, sin­cere, hum­ble” heart in present times to the sit­u­a­tion in bib­li­cal Is­rael, “as it be­came aware of the per­sis­tence in its midst of evil and sin as a power, prac­ti­cally im­pla­ca­ble and im­pos­si­ble to over­come.”

He be­gan cel­e­brat­ing the Mass by pre­sent­ing the gift of a mo­saic of Christ to be dis­played at the mon­u­ment.

The pope flew over the mon­u­ment in a Mex­i­can mil­i­tary Su­per­puma he­li­copter en route to the Mass site at Bi­cen­ten­nial Park, where he rode in the “pope­mo­bile” through an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd. One per­son handed the pope a broad-brimmed Mex­i­can som­brero that he wore on his way to the al­tar at the sun-drenched park.

“We pray for him to help us, that there be no more vi­o­lence in the coun­try,” said Lorena Diaz, 50, who owns a jeans fac­tory in Leon. “We pray that he gives us peace.”

Bene­dict wanted to come to Gua­na­ju­ato state specif­i­cally to see and bless the statue, which Pope John Paul II al­ways wanted to visit but never did, said the Vat­i­can spokesman, the Rev. Fed­erico Lom­bardi.

The 72-foot-high bronze mon­u­ment of Christ with its out­stretched arms serves as a po­tent re­minder to Mex­i­cans of the 1926-1929 Ro­man Catholic up­ris­ing against the gov­ern­ment and its anti-cler­i­cal laws that pro­hib­ited public Masses.

The statue “ex­presses an iden­tity of the Mex­i­can peo­ple that con­tains a whole his­tory in re­la­tion to the tes­ti­mony of faith and those who fought for re­li­gious free­dom at the time,” said Mon­signor Vic­tor Rene Ro­driguez, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Mex­i­can bish­ops con­fer­ence.

Gua­na­ju­ato state was the site of some of the key bat­tles of the Cris­tero War, so-called be­cause its pro­tag­o­nists said they were fight­ing for Christ the King. His­to­ri­ans say about 90,000 peo­ple died be­fore peace was re­stored. The re­gion re­mains Mex­ico’s most con­ser­va­tively Catholic.

Many Mex­i­cans said they were sur­prised by the warmth of Bene­dict, whose im­age is more re­served and aca­demic than his pop­u­lar pre­de­ces­sor, John Paul II, who was dubbed “Mex­ico’s pope.”

“Some young peo­ple re­jected the pope, say­ing he has an an­gry face. But now they see him like a grand­fa­ther,” said Cris­tian Roberto Cerda Reynoso, 17, a sem­i­nar­ian from Leon. “I see the youth filled with ex­cite­ment and en­thu­si­asm.”

The 84-year-old pope is go­ing to Cuba on Mon­day.

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