EL PASO, Texas (WLS) --Pope Francis' mission to Mexico is officially over, but his message will resonate for years to come.
Francis celebrated Mass just across the border from Texas and prayed for the thousands who died trying to reach the U.S. He had strong words Wednesday about immigration, but it wasn't only about words. The pope wanted the world to see migrants on the U.S. side of the border, and ABC7 was the only Chicago TV station to be with them during that moment.
Francis stood in Mexico and blessed migrants in the United States. They cheered, knowing what this moment means to them - and migrants around the world.
"He came here to change lives, he came here to give us a very strong message - immigrant lives matter," said Gabriela Castaneda, one of the pope's VIPs.
They were called the Pope's VIPs: hundreds of migrants, and others on the margins, invited to be on the El Paso levee. Instead of numbers and statistics, the pope wanted to show faces and families.
"It was amazing to be here," said Claudia Flores, another one of Pope Francis' VIPs.
Flores was in the U.S., but her grandparents were at the papal Mass across the border.
"When he came down and when he gave us a blessing, my heart dropped because I wish I could have been there with most of my family," Flores said.
With Francis less than 100 yards away from the U.S. border - less than the length of a football field - the excitement was palpable.
"It's very important moment," said Oscar Garcia, one of the pope's VIPs.
The pope also laid flowers for immigrants who died. His immigration message is one a Chicago priest will take back to Lincoln Park.
"Seeing the pope right now made me realize that we're all in this together, and we have to cross borders, and the borders we must cross to get in the human heart," said Fr. Frank Latzko, of St. Teresa of Avila Parish.
During Mass, Francis implored the crowd, saying "No more death!" He called for an end to what he called the "human tragedy" of migrants fleeing the "spiral of violence and the hell of drugs". His message of mercy and unity stretched across the border.
"A lot of people wanted to be here and they couldn't be here, so I have the moral obligation to represent them," Castaneda said.
Francis began his final day at Prison No. 3 in Ciudad Juarez, a city that was once considered the murder capital of the world. As a prison band serenaded him with their own mariachi compositions, Francis greeted a few dozen inmates clad in matching gray sweatsuits and white sneakers in a prison courtyard.
They had been selected because of their good behavior. Looking on from the barred window of the lockup, a small cluster of guards could be seen watching Francis' encounter as the smell of fresh paint and new tree saplings indicated a last-minute spruce-up for the occasion.
Francis told the 700 or so inmates gathered outside the prison's new chapel that they cannot undo the past. But he said they must believe that things can change, and that they have the possibility of "writing a new story and moving forward."
"You have known the power of sorrow and sin and have not forgotten that within your reach is the power of the resurrection, the power of divine mercy which makes all things new."
He urged the inmates to use their experience in prison for good, to help end the cycle of violence that has torn Mexico apart in recent years.
"The one who has suffered the greatest pain, and we could say has experienced hell, can become a prophet in society," he said. "Work so that this society, which uses people and discards them, will not go on claiming victims."
Francis' message of hope came just days after a deadly riot at Monterrey's Topo Chico prison, where rival gang factions last week bloodied one another with hammers, cudgels and makeshift knives. Eight more inmates were injured Tuesday in a brawl at another prison.
Ciudad Juarez's Prison No. 3 is relatively calm these days. But it has seen violent clashes before that reflected the chaos outside its walls.
Not long ago Juarez was wracked by violence as cartel-backed gang warfare fed homicide rates that hit 230 per 100,000 residents in 2010. A rash of killings of women, many of them poor factory workers who just disappeared, attracted international attention.
Times have changed, though. Last year, the city's homicide rate was about 20 per 100,000 people, roughly on par with Mexico's nationwide average of 14 per 100,000 - and well below what is being seen in current hotspots of drug violence, such as the Pacific resort city of Acapulco and surrounding Guerrero state.
Many businesses that closed during Juarez's darkest years have reopened. Tourists are again crossing over from the United States to shop and dine. People say they no longer have to leave parties early to avoid being on the streets after dark.
"At least now we can go out. We go to the parks. We can walk around a little more at that time of night," said resident Lorena Diaz, standing under a huge banner of Francis hanging from her second-story balcony.
Diaz, who along with about 30 family members secured tickets for Wednesday's Mass, has followed news of Francis' tour and welcomed his calls for Mexicans not to tolerate corruption and violence.
"He's telling us to get out of the trenches, not to close ourselves off," Diaz said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.