Pope arrives in Mexico

March 23, 2012 8:20:48 PM PDT
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico Friday night for the first leg of a pilgrimage that will also take him to Cuba.

President Felipe Calderon and the first lady greeted the pope as he stepped off the plane.

Crowds of people surrounded the tarmac waving flags. The pope told them he was coming to Mexico as a pilgrim of hope. He spoke of the violence that ordinary Mexicans must confront.

Then he traveled 20 miles to the city of Leon. Thousands of people lined the streets along the route.

The pope's special Alitalia flight landed late Friday afternoon.

He was greeted by a large crowd at the airport waving Vatican and Mexican flags.

A red carpet was rolled out for the pope as he came to the steps and greeted the crowd and some local dignitaries.

The Pope arrived to a warm welcome, as thousands line the streets of Leon, hoping to see the Pontiff.

"It feels great to have the Pope here in Mexico and the City of Leon," said Luis Perez. "It feels great, you can't express it with words. It's something in your heart that you feel."

It is a warm feeling in a country caught in a cold battle.

Although Leon's Cathedral and downtown plaza are picturesque and welcoming, authorities say they tracked down a top lieutenant of the deadly Sinaloa cartel in this city and arrested him here last month.

"I hope the pope can bring some peace in this town because the people here need peace," said Detroit resident Sebastian Moreno.

The Pope is visiting Mexico with that backdrop, a sign asking Pope Benedict to end the violence and bring peace back.

"I know the Pope will send a very strong message on peace and I know that it can get as far as Chicago," said Matteson's Manuel Tavares.

Tavares returned home to Leon to see the Pope. He wants the Pope's message of peace to change Mexico and the streets of Chicago, wherever there is violence.

"I don't think it will happen overnight," he said. "That will be a dream, but I know definitely it's going to happen. I know he's going to send a big message."

It's a message Father Jesus Puentes - who traveled from Chicago - wants to hear, too.

"Unite the people from different countries, different cultural traditions, from different language and only one faith for my congregation, very good," he said.

Nineteen countries are represented in the Father Puentes' congregation, St. Philomena on Chicago's Northwest Side.

He wants his parishioners to hear the Pope's words this weekend and welcome peace, especially for young people, and that is one of the Pope's priorities this weekend.

"For us young people, it's good to see that he's here to show how to identify what's good and what's bad," said Enrique Vega.

Pope John Paul II made a trip to Mexico five times, but he never came to this region, this state, so this is a special moment with Pope Benedict.

The Archdiocese of Leon believes that nearly three million people will converge on this state during the three-day celebration.