Pope among the poor and the sick

Pope Francis at the Federico Gomez Pediatric Hospital in Mexico City, Vatican TV Center
Pope Francis at the Federico Gomez Pediatric Hospital in Mexico City, Vatican TV Center

After the relative pomp of Mexico City and the splendour of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Francis headed into the suburbs yesterday to celebrate Mass in the open air with more than 400,000 people in the rough, crime-ridden neighbourhood of Ecatepec.

Ecatepec is notorious for organised crime, pollution and poverty – a dangerous area especially for women who are frequently victims of rape, are forced into prostitution or are murdered. According to Veronica Scarisbrick of Vatican Radio, Pope Francis had done his homework: “He has priests on the ground and knows what goes on here. He knows how the once clear canal that flows through the area, the ‘Rio de los Remedios’ has a fetid aura and has become a dumping place for corpses. In 2014 alone, drainage work uncovered hundreds of human bones and the remains of five men and 16 young women, for women are targeted in a special way, raped or forced into prostitution. And when they don’t consent, they’re disfigured with acid or become part of the army of ‘desaparecidas’ (the disappeared) amid the indifference of the police,” Veronica explains.

Pope Francis was celebrating Mass for the first Sunday of Lent and in his homily, he spoke about three temptations of Christ, which are also temptations for Christians: the temptation to wealth, to vanity, and to pride. He described the penitential season of Lent as an invitation to conversion, to turn ourselves to Christ, who is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down. But he also urged his listeners to remember the special relationship that they have with God – their Father – not a father of apathy, lies, exhaustion and mistrust.

Care and dignity

“How often we experience in our own lives, or in our own families, among our friends or neighbours, the pain which arises when the dignity we carry within is not recognised,” the Pope said. “How many times have we had to cry and regret on realising that we have not acknowledged this dignity in others. How often - and it pains me to say it - have we been blind and impervious in failing to recognise our own and others' dignity.” He urged the people of Mexico – and all listening – to put their trust in Jesus, not in money, fame and power, not to “dialogue with the devil”.

Also on Sunday, the pope visited a children's hospital where he was greeted by young patients and staff. One - identified by the Catholic News Agency as 15-year-old Alexia Garduño, who suffers from osteosarcoma - sang ‘Ave Maria’ for him a capella, moving some of the people in the papal party to tears. “It is very important that we feel cared for and accompanied,” Pope Francis said, “to feel loved and to know that all these workers here are looking for the best way to care for us.  To each of these people, I say, ‘Thank you’.”