Pope to bless thousands, meet with Mexican pres.

March 24, 2012 8:08:32 AM PDT
Pope Benedict XVI makes history this weekend as he visits Mexico for the first time.

The trip is part of a pilgrimage that will also take him to Cuba.

The pope arrived Friday in the Mexican city of Silao then traveled to Leon.

His Saturday schedule was not nearly as busy. The pontiff was expected to join in a private Mass in the morning at the college and convent where he was staying, which is operated by nuns, but the rest of his public schedule during the day was free. The down time could help get acclimated to the higher altitude in Mexico.

Saturday night, however, the pope was expected to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the Mexican city of Guanajuato, raising question about whether politics has played a part in the pope's visit. Both Pope Benedict and President Calderon have been criticized for scheduling the visit to Mexico while the presidential election season is in full swing.

An election is coming up in July.

After meeting with Calderon, Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to bless approximately 4,000 children in a city plaza.

The pope's visit comes while the Mexican government is struggling to deal with deadly violence at the hands of drug cartels. Thousands of families have be affected by the violence. In 2011, approximately 13,000 homicides related to the drug war were reported. In February, the U.S. state department issued a travel warning for Mexico. The pope has talked about the violence before and said the Church has a responsibility to make sure everyone's moral compass is pointing in the right direction.

Millions do travel safely to Mexico each year. About 150,000 Americans travel back and forth daily across the Mexican border. During the drug wars, however, Americans have been caught in gun battles between rival gang members. There is also the threat of kidnapping and robbery, mostly in the northern Mexican states.

Chicago is home to one of the largest Mexican-American populations in the United States, and several Chicagoans made the trip to Mexico to see the pope. ABC7 Chicago caught up with the pastor of St. Philomena on the city's Northwest Side, Fr. Jesus Puentes, for example. Many of the Chicagoans said their trip was a journey of faith and that the pope's message is not just about Mexicao. They said they believe that whatever the pope says, especially during Sunday's Mass, should influence people across the Americas, all the way up to Chicago.

Father Puentes said Friday that he wanted his parishioners to listen and practice what the pope says.

After Mexico, the pope travels to Cuba. ABC7 Chicago's coverage from that country starts Sunday night at 10 p.m. with Chuck Goudie reporting live from Havana.