Ecatepec, Mexico: Pope Francis Presides Over Mass In Notoriously Violent Suburb

Ecatepec, Mexico, remains one of the country’s most notoriously violent suburbs. Despite the possible danger, Pope Francis presided over an outdoor mass in the Mexico City suburb on Sunday afternoon. Following mass, the Pope will attend lunch at the Diocesan Seminary before flying back to Mexico City to visit the Federico Gomez children’s hospital.

The Los Angeles Times reports an estimated 300,000 people gathered in an open field for a chance to catch a glimpse of the beloved religious leader. Although temperatures were below freezing, hundreds of thousands of spectators bundled themselves, and their children, in blankets and heavy coats and walked to the site.

Residents who were unable to attend the mass lined the streets before and after the much-anticipated event. Standing in a custom-made “Papa ambulancia,” Francis rode through the streets of the crime-riddled suburb smiling and waving at the spectators.

Pope Francis’ Ecatepec, Mexico, mass focused on peace, unity, and the dangerous temptations of “the evil one.” CBC reports the address echoed earlier sentiments, which he expressed during Saturday’s visit to the presidential palace.

“Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development.”

In addition to discussing peace and unity, Pope Francis asked Ecatepec, Mexico’s, residents and guests to reflect on the meaning of Lent.

“Lent is a time for reconsidering our feelings, for letting our eyes be opened to the frequent injustices which stand in direct opposition to the dream and the plan of God.”

In the remaining three days of his Mexico trip, Pope Francis is expected to visit Chiapas, Morelia, and Ciudad Juarez. As residents in these regions have all suffered from ongoing poverty and violence, the Pope’s message is not likely to change.

Although poverty and violence plague the entire country, Ecatepec is one of Mexico’s most impoverished and dangerous suburbs.

In 2015, Mexico’s Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice named Ecatepec the seventh most violent Mexican municipality.

Despite numerous measures to reduce drug trafficking and violent crime, officials believe a vast majority of the region’s violent crimes are related to drug cartels and organized crime.

In 2014, the remains of 16 women and five men were reportedly discovered in Ecatepec’s Grand Canal. Unfortunately, the grisly discovery underlines the fact that women and young girls are often specific targets.

Ecatepec is part of Mexico State, where more than 1,200 women and young girls vanished without a trace between 2011 and 2013 alone. Although some were clearly murdered, many are sold into human trafficking rings.

BBC reports an estimated “20,000 people are trafficked in Mexico” each year. A majority of those people are women and young girls.

Reuters offers another explanation as to why so many women and young girls go missing in Ecatepec and other notorious conflict zones.

“Women in conflict zones are often seen as ‘territory’ to be conquered, and raping and murdering women a way to intimidate rival gangs and the local population.”

It is unclear whether Pope Francis’ visit to Ecatepec, Mexico, will impact the devastating crime rates and poverty. However, he is appealing to government officials, religious leaders, and residents to form a united front against the drug cartels and other evil forces. The Pope asked the government officials, religious leaders, and residents to put their trust in God to help them overcome the adversity.

[Image via giulio napolitano/Shutterstock]