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6 key moments from Pope Francis’s trip to Mexico

Pope Francis waves from the popemobile on his way to attend the Via Crucis on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 26, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Pope Francis waves from the popemobile on his way to attend the Via Crucis on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 26, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Pope Francis, the first pontiff to hail from the Americas, is wrapping up a six-day swing through Mexico, the second-most-populous Catholic nation. He has designed his trip to hit many of the major stops migrants make on their way north to the Mexico-US border. From the state of Chiapas, where Central Americans first arrive in Mexico; through Michoacán, a source of Mexican immigrants to the US fleeing from intense gang violence; and finally to Ciudad Juárez, a gateway city that hugs the border.

In case you haven’t been following along, here are a few key moments from his trip, highlighting the unique focus on social justice this pope has taken.

The pope visited an indigenous church in southern Mexico, breaking with Vatican tradition

During one of the early stops of his trip, Pope Francis visited the southern state of Chiapas, a state with a heavily indigenous population. The region’s churches blend Catholicism with elements of Mayan spirituality, such as the use of pine boughs and eggs, into a Mass that the Catholic Church has long bristled at.

But not so with Francis, who presented one of these churches with a decree authorizing the use of indigenous languages during Mass.

"I ask you to show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures,’’ Francis told Mexico’s bishops ahead of the visit.

The pope told children: Jesus does not want you to be "hit men"

Midway through his trip, Pope Francis traveled to the western state of Michoacán, which in recent years has been ravaged by gang wars over the methamphetamine trade. While there, during a stop at a stadium in the state’s capital city, Morelia, the pope implored young people to resist the allure of easy money by joining the drug trade.

"It is a lie to believe that the only way to live, or to be young, is to entrust oneself to drug dealers or others who do nothing but sow destruction and death," he told the crowd. "Jesus would never ask us to be hit men."

His plea struck an uncomfortable tone — most Mexican children don’t choose gang violence, but some are forced into it because of devastating poverty and crippling social pressure. But during the same speech, Francis took a swipe at Mexican authorities for failing to better provide young people with employment or other basic services.

"It is hard to feel the wealth of a nation when there are no opportunities for dignified work, no possibilities for study or advancement, when you feel your rights are being trampled on, which then leads you to extreme situations," he said.

The pope lost his cool after someone tripped him in a crowd

For a pope who has made something of a brand of his everyman lifestyle, this mishap overshadowed the overarching tenor of his trip. Francis was making his way through a crowd of greeters after his speech in Morelia when a man grabbed his hand and did not let go. The clinging worshiper ended up knocking the pope down — onto a young woman using a wheelchair.

Pope Francis regained his balance with the help of a security guard, but the look on his face was fierce.

"No seas egoista! No seas egoista! [Don't be selfish! Don't be selfish!]" a video caught Pope Francis loudly scolding the overeager worshiper.

The pope visited a prison

The last stop on Francis’s six-day swing brought him to Ciudad Juárez, a border city in the north directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Francis paid a visit to Cereso state prison No. 3, where he addressed a group of 760 inmates chosen to participate in the event.

Though Francis has visited prisons in the past, the location of this visit was particularly potent: From 2008 to 2010, Ciudad Juárez had the highest rate of murders of any city in the world. Many of the city’s residents are still reeling from a spate of gang violence and murders of women that kept many too frightened to leave their homes.

"The problem of security is not resolved only by incarcerating. Rather, it calls us to intervene by confronting the structural and cultural causes of insecurity that impact the entire social framework," he told the inmates during their gathering. He urged them to help make Mexico a place where it is safe "to dream," in the hopes that one day, so many Mexicans wouldn’t feel the urgency to flee north.

The pope will celebrate Mass on the US-Mexico border

While in Ciudad Juárez, Pope Francis will also celebrate Mass at a spot hardly 300 feet from the fence marking the US-Mexico border, and will walk right up to its edge in a potent political statement.

While there, he is expected to pray for asylum seekers in the United States and give a blessing for those who died trying.

The pope’s Mass will be simulcast in El Paso, though more than 200,000 people are expected to cross the border to witness the real thing in Mexico.

Francis has made the plight of migrants a centerpiece of his papacy, most prominently urging European leaders to take in migrants displaced from their homes in the Middle East and Africa. On this trip, the pope has spoken for the need to end drug violence driving people to head north without authorization.

It’s a message that hasn’t resonated well with Republicans in the US, who see securing the border as a top priority and who are irritated that the pope mentioned the border in a political context during his speech to Congress in September.

In response to claims from Donald Trump that the pope was bribed to make the visit by the Mexican government, the Vatican said in a statement, "The pope always talks about migration problems all around the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace."

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