MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis will end his first visit to Mexico next year with a large Mass at the fairgrounds in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, church officials said on Saturday.
Ciudad Juarez, a popular crossing point for migrants to the United States, was ravaged by violence at the height of Mexico’s drug war. The choice of the town continues the pope’s focus on immigrants and other marginalized groups as one of the main issues of his papacy.
On his last trip to the hemisphere, the first Latin American pontiff said he feels a “particular affection” toward Hispanics and other recent immigrants to the United States.
During the five-day visit starting Feb. 12, the pontiff will also lead Mass with the indigenous community in San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, and speak with young people in Morelia, the capital of the violence-wracked state of Michoacan.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also plans to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and other officials to discuss issues including the environment, security, protection for migrants, human rights and the fight against poverty, according to Mexico’s foreign ministry.
These may be sensitive topics for Pena Nieto, whose approval ratings have plummeted this year as he faces a struggling economy and a litany of security scandals.
The Mexican Episcopal Conference officially shared the itinerary for the pope’s visit on the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the country’s most cherished national and religious symbols. Pope Francis will also visit her shrine.
The Vatican first announced in October that the pope would visit Mexico, but did not provide details. The trip will be Pope Francis’s fourth visit to Latin America, including his stop in Cuba this past September.
Reporting by Veronica Gomez and Anna Yukhananov; Editing by David Gregorio