Pope calls for faith to overcome violence
SILAO, Mexico: Pope Benedict XVI said at a mass to hundreds of thousands in central Mexico Sunday that violence and the "power of armies" would not save people, pointing instead to the "higher power" of God.
The pope referred to Christ the King, whose statue towered over the Bicentennial Park where the mass took place, to speak of violence at a time when Mexico is suffering a brutal drug war and military crackdown – blamed for some 50,000 deaths in five years.
"His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power than wins over hearts: the love of God," the pope said before an estimated faithful of more than half a million, in the blazing sun in the highly Catholic state of Guanajuato.
The pope flew over the bronze statue of Christ the King by helicopter before being greeted by crowds of singing, applauding, flag-waving faithful in the world's second most numerous Catholic nation after Brazil.
Showing a lighter side to his character, the pope even donned a broad black Mexican sombrero as he travelled in the Popemobile, receiving shouts of "Benedict, my brother, you're Mexican," in response.
The mass was a highlight on the 84-year-old pope's last day in Mexico, before he travels to communist Cuba on Monday.
Guanajuato state saw some of the key battles of Mexico's Cristero War of the 1920s, so-called because its leaders said they were fighting religious persecution for Christ the King, a revered figure in Mexico.
The pope also called on the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, to "promote fraternity, setting aside futile acts of revenge and banishing all divisive hatred."
Benedict also urged Latin America's faithful "to overcome fatigue related to faith and rediscover the joy of being Christians."
The region, home to 28 percent of the world's Catholics, has seen a drop in believers in recent years, alongside growing rival religions and attitudes that clash with the Church's views on issues such as abortion or gay marriage.
Benedict was due to give a message to Latin American bishops in Leon Cathedral later Sunday.
The pope arrived in the shadow of his charismatic predecessor John Paul II but has been warmly received here.
"The pope will leave me his heart and take mine away with him," said 35-year-old Aydee Luna, who camped out to get a good view of the mass.
Benedict discussed the involvement of young people in Mexico's drug gangs with Mexican President Felipe Calderon Saturday, and met with eight victims of drug violence.
Victims of sexual abuse, meanwhile, accused the Vatican of protecting a notorious Mexican priest -- Marcial Maciel who founded the influential Legion of Christ order -- and expressed frustration that the pope would not meet them in Mexico.
Vatican spokesman father Federico Lombardi told journalists it was "very unfair to say that this pope had sought to hide" the scandal and the Mexican request for a meeting seemed to have "a certain aggressiveness and ambiguity."
Mexican authorities promised maximum security for the trip, with some 5,400 security forces deployed, while the archbishop of Leon, where the pope is staying, even called on local drug gangs to call a truce.
Some here criticized the political context of the visit amid debate over new legislation, which President Calderon's conservative government is backing, to end restrictions on religious ceremonies in public places and a ban on religious involvement in politics.
Benedict has referred to "the fundamental right to freedom of religion," while Guanajuato is also a stronghold of Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN), which has roots in Catholic organisations.
The papal visit comes a week before the start of campaigning for July 1 general elections and the main candidates for the presidency attended Sunday's mass.
In Cuba, Benedict XVI will seek to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II, who was credited with strengthening the church's relationship to the state and urging the communist island to open up, though it remains highly isolated.
Benedict said that Marxism "no longer corresponds to reality" on the journey to Mexico.