Benedict XVI rides in the popemobile to House of Conde Rul, in Guanajuato, to meet President Calderon. (Matthew C. Hoffman)
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico Friday to an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of Catholic faithful and government officials, evoking memories of Pope John Paul II's many successful trips to the world's largest Spanish-speaking country. However, the pontiff's journey is also becoming the occasion of a carefully-planned attack by a victim of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel, who accuses Benedict, John Paul, and other high officials of the Church of failing to respond adequately to the accusations against the sexually-abusive priest.
Words of encouragement and peace
Benedict arrived in Mexico on Friday, touching down in the state of Guanajuato, the heart of Mexico's strongly-Catholic Bajio region. He was received by President Felipe Calderon, and gave a brief speech thanking Mexicans for their legendary hospitality, reiterating the themes of faith, hope, and charity addressed by recent encyclicals, and promising to pray for the end of suffering caused by "old and new forms of rivalry, resentment, and violence."
"I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of charity," the pope told the crowd. "I desire to confirm the believers in Christ in their faith, consolidate them in it, and encourage them to revitalize it with the hearing of the Word of God, the sacraments, and the coherence of life. In this way, they will be able to share it with others, like missionaries among their brothers, and be a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence, based in the incomparable dignity of every human person, created by God, and whom no power has the right to forget or despise."
President Calderon responded with a discourse on challenges facing the country, and expressing confidence that the traditional values of the Mexican people would give them the strength to prevail. Among other issues, such as poverty and economic inequality, Calderon decried the "ruthless and naked violence" caused by "delinquents" and "organized crime."
Noting that "in this, our country, 93 million of us Catholics live...we are the the country with the second highest number of Catholics in the world," Calderon credited the Church with impregnating Mexico with "the most elevated sense of love of neighbor..." Following the exchange, the pope was then taken in a procession to Leon's Colegio Miraflores in the popemobile, greeted by enthusiastic crowds whose ardor has been widely judged as equal to that afforded to his predecessor.
On Saturday the pontiff said mass privately in a chapel of the Colegio, where he had passed the night, and then proceeded to the city of Guanajuato, where he symbolically received the keys to the city from the governor and mayor of the city, and broke protocol by personally greeting members of the faithful who had come to see the event.