VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis will visit a prison and celebrate Mass in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican border city plagued by violence in recent years, the Vatican has said in an announcement of details of the pontiff’s upcoming visit to Mexico.
The pope’s visit to Ciudad Juarez will conclude his six-day Mexico tour, starting on Feb. 12. The stop will draw attention to drug-related violence and the U.S. policy on migration.
While in the city on Feb. 17, Francis will tour a prison, meet with workers and celebrate Mass at the fairgrounds close to the border. Around 220,000 people are expected to attend the Mass, with tickets offered to parishes on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said he hoped the occasion will draw attention to the situation at the border. “We hope that in a special way, Pope Francis’ visit to this region will give voice to these often voiceless people here on the border, especially children and families who are the most vulnerable.
“And we hope that his presence will facilitate a much-needed national dialogue that will help unite our own country around a compassionate response to the poor in our midst,” he said in an online statement.
Ciudad Juarez has suffered some of the worst violence in the government’s crackdown on drug cartels, which has seen tens of thousands of people killed since the state operation began in 2006. The city’s location on the border also makes it a focal point for the immigration debate, which Francis made reference to during his U.S. visit in September.
“Many of you have immigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life,” Francis said in Philadelphia. “Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face.”
But it was a 5-year-old girl who thrust the immigration debate into the center of the pope’s U.S. tour, hand-delivering a letter to the pontiff in which she said she feared her Mexican parents would be deported. U.S. policies on undocumented immigrants, such as the girl’s parents, will undoubtedly be brought back to the fore during Francis’ Mexico visit.
While touring the country the pope will also visit a pediatric hospital in Mexico City and meet with the indigenous community in San Cristobal de Las Casas, southern Mexico. Early in the trip Francis will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City. The pope celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day in Rome on Saturday (Dec. 12).
(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)