Pope Francis said Saturday in his first speech since touching down in Mexico that economic inequality and unfairness were at the root of numerous societal ills, including corruption, the drug trade and violence.
In remarks at this capital’s National Palace, where he became the first pope to enter that seat of Mexico’s federal executive and was received with full state honors by President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Argentine pontiff said that for Mexico to “build a promising future” it needs “men and women who are upright, honest, and capable of working for the common good.”
When “the path of privileges or benefits for a few” is pursued, “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,” Francis said.
Mexico has been racked by drug-related violence over the past decade, with well over 100,000 lives lost since 2006.
The pope, whose visit began Friday and will run through Feb. 17, arrived at the National Palace by popemobile, waving to the large crowds in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s massive main square.
He began his speech saying he was “happy to set foot on Mexican soil which holds a special place in the heart of the Americas.”
In his address to Peña Nieto and other Mexican government officials and dignitaries, Francis said he had come as a “missionary of mercy and of peace but also as a son who wishes to pay homage” to the Virgin of Guadalupe and “to this people and to this land which is so rich in culture, history, and diversity.”
The pope, who as part of his cross-country tour will visit the southern state of Chiapas, home to Mexico’s largest indigenous population, said the “ancestral wisdom shown by your multiculturalism is, by far, one of your greatest biographical resources.”
During his speech, repeatedly interrupted by cheers from the roughly 1,200 people in attendance, he said the country’s “rich patrimony” needed to be “valued, encouraged and protected.”
Francis said the leaders of Mexico’s social, cultural and political life must ensure that all citizens have “real access to the material and spiritual goods which are indispensable: adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment.”
Above and beyond efforts to update and improve laws, Mexico requires an “urgent formation of the personal responsibility of each individual, with full respect for others as men and women jointly responsible in promoting the advancement of the nation.”