It was the day of love – and even Pope Francis got a Valentine’s surprise.
In his last formal appointment of his second full day in Mexico, Francis visited a pediatric hospital where he kissed dozens of sick children and even dished out medicine.
At one particularly poignant moment, a young patient from the cancer ward sang a beautiful a capella version of Ave Maria for him, bringing the room to tears.
The girl has been identified by the Catholic News Agency as 15-year-old Alexia Garduño, who suffers from osteosarcoma.
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While Pope Francis visited Federico Gomez hospital a young patient (left and right) from the cancer ward sang a beautiful a capella version of Ave Maria for him, bringing the room to tears
The girl has been identified as 15-year-old Alexia Garduño (left and right) who suffers from osteosarcoma
And one admirer, who was wheelchair-bound – was particularly charmed by the holy visit and offered Francis a handmade card with a big heart on the front.
Francis asked: ‘You made this? Gracias.’
His visit to the Federico Gomez hospital was clearly well-received with some posing for selfies, while others managed to rise from their wheelchairs to embrace him.
But despite his warmth towards the sick patients and their staff, the Pope delivered a strong message to the country once again.
In his last formal appointment of his second full day in Mexico, he visited a pediatric hospital where he kissed dozens of sick children. Pictured: Pope Francis speaks with a child during his visit to the Federico GÛmez children’s hospital
The pope makes a point of stopping at children’s hospitals during his foreign trips, both to visit with the kids and to thank the staff for caring for them
Pope Francis gives a medicine to a child during his visit to the pediatric hospital
While parts of the encounters are televised, Francis also visits bedridden patients in private for more personal encounters
Francis held Mass in front of 300,000 people in a murder-ridden suburb of Mexico City, and urged them to create a country free of emigration and ‘merchants of death’.
The pontiff used the service in Ecatepec, a rough Mexico City suburb, to touch on two major themes of his trip to Mexico – drug violence and the plight of migrants.
He urged his flock to turn the country into a ‘land of opportunity,’ where ‘there will be no need to emigrate in order to dream’ and where they will ‘not have to mourn men and women, young people and children who are destroyed at the hands of the merchants of death.’
Mass: Pope Francis delivered Mass to 400,000 people in a crime-ridden suburb of Mexico City
Violence: Ecatepec has one of the highest murder rates in the country, and is one of the most dangerous places for women
‘Merchants of death’: The pontiff urged his flock to reject emigration and ‘merchants of death’
Faithful: He went off-script during the ceremony and told the faithful not to talk to the devil
Ecatepec, a city of 1.6 million people, has become infamous for a spate of disappearances of women, whose bodies have turned up in abandoned lots or canals.
The city lies in the populous state of Mexico, where some 600 women have been killed between January 2014 and September 2015, according to the non-governmental National Citizen Observatory of Femicides.
Francis urged the faithful to resist the three temptations of Christ – vanity, pride and wealth – during the homily.
‘Brothers and sisters, let’s get this into our heads: You can’t talk with the devil. You can’t talk with him because he will always defeat us,’ the 79-year-old emphasized, going off-script from his prepared remarks.
‘Only the Word of God can defeat him. We have opted for Jesus and not the devil,’ he said.
The pontiff received a jubilant welcome after arriving from Mexico City in a helicopter, which had flown him over the majestic Moon and Sun pyramids of the pre-Columbian city of Teotihuacan.
Jubilant: The pope traveled down the suburb’s newly renovated street, where the authorities replaced gang insignia with bright murals
Opportunity: He also told his followers to turn Mexico into a ‘land of opportunity’
Dedication: Thousands of worshipers lined the street overnight for a front row seat to see Pope Francis
Throngs lined the concrete-laden streets of Ecatepec, whose walls were decorated with graffiti art featuring the pope’s image, to cheer the popemobile on the second full day of a trip that will take him to other Mexican hotspots.
Thousands had spent the night outdoors, wrapping themselves in blankets and using cardboard as makeshift tents against the freezing cold.
Hundreds of police officers stood guard around the field.
‘We know that Ecatepec has a lot of problems like the lack of security and kidnappings,’ said Rodrigo Perez, a 25-year-old public security student.
Security: The neighbourhood, known more for kidnapping and murder, was under a 24-hour lock down
Police escort Pope Francis as he makes his way through one of Mexico City’s main avenues on the popemobile
But the pope’s visit, he said, is a chance to ‘talk about peace and unity.’
The Argentine-born pontiff made it clear before his arrival in Mexico that he would speak out about the corruption and crime afflicting parts of the country.
Two massacres served as reminders of Mexico’s ills during his visit: 49 inmates died in a prison riot in the northern city of Monterrey on the eve of his arrival while 13 people were shot dead in the drug cartel-plagued Pacific state of Sinaloa on Saturday.
Francis used his visit to the National Palace and the capital’s cathedral on Saturday to bluntly urge political and religious leaders to provide Mexicans with ‘true justice’ and combat drug violence with ‘prophetic courage.’
Many Mexicans, fed up with a decade of drug violence that has left 100,000 dead or missing, had hoped to hear such words from the pope.
Francis has chosen to visit some of Mexico’s most troubled regions during his five-day trip to the world’s second most populous Catholic country.
The crimes against women in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital, prompted the federal government to declare a ‘gender violence alert’ requiring protective measures in 11 towns, including Ecatepec.
But Maria de la Luz Estrada, coordinator of the National Observatory on Femicide, an alliance of 49 rights groups said she was disappointed that the pope did not discuss discrimination against women or deliver a stronger ‘message of solidarity with the families of the victims of femicide and disappearances.’
Peace: Attendees of the service said the Pope’s visit was a chance to talk about ‘peace and security’
Catholic faithful attend Pope Francis’ open-air mass in Ecatepec –a rough, crime-plagued Mexico City suburb
Ana Yeli Perez, legal adviser at the National Citizen Observatory of Femicides, said the organization is ‘concerned about the lack of visibility of the issue because the government controls it. We hope the pope speaks about it.’
But Karla Paola Romero, a 21-year-old activist who was nearly kidnapped three years ago, said gender violence would not be resolved ‘with a miracle.’
Romero, who was not at the mass, spoke near a hill where a woman’s body was found in December. The victim had been raped and hanged.
The pope will face other tough issues during his trip.
On Monday, he visits Mexico’s poorest and least Catholic region, the southern indigenous state of Chiapas.
On Tuesday, he heads to the capital of Michoacan, a western state scarred by drug cartel violence.
The pope caps his trip in Mexico’s former murder capital, Ciudad Juarez, for a mass that will straddle the US-Mexico border to highlight the plight of migrants.
Earlier, Pope Francis proved his fun-loving nature – donning his third sombrero in as many days as his tour of Mexico continues
Pope Francis showed his playful side after donning a sombrero in front of thousands of adoring worshippers
When visiting Mexico City Square yesterday, he wore a white and red sombrero handed to him by a member of his adoring audience – much to their considerable delight.
Enjoying the reception, his Holiness then playfully gestured to the crowd, as if to say: ‘How do I look?’
The well received spot of joviality marked a hat-trick of hat tricks for Pope Francis on his trip to the country.
The well received spot of joviality marked a hat-trick of hat tricks for Pope Francis on his trip to Mexico. He had already whipped his worshippers into a frenzy when he donned a white sombrero on his flight into the country
His huge popularity then escalated even further when he was seen wearing a black and gold version when meeting the country’s President (right) and First Lady
He had already whipped his worshippers into a frenzy when he donned a white sombrero on his flight in.
And his huge popularity then escalated even further when he was seen wearing a black and gold version when meeting the country’s President and First Lady.
Pope Francis waves to the crowd, aboard the popemobile in Mexico City’s main sqaure, the Zocalo, Saturday, kicking off his first trip to Mexico
On Saturday, he issued a pair of tough-love messages to Mexico’s political and church elite, telling them they have a duty to provide security, justice and courageous pastoral care
It will be a strikingly different backdrop from the pageantry of Friday night’s red-carpet welcome Pope Francis received at Mexico City airport.
He was greeted by President Enrique Pena Nieto and first lady Angelica Rivera. There were also performances by folkloric dancers and mariachi musicians.
Today’s mass will be a strikingly different backdrop from the pageantry of Friday night’s red-carpet welcome Pope Francis received at Mexico City airport
He was greeted by President Enrique Pena Nieto and first lady Angelica Rivera. There were also performances by folkloric dancers and mariachi musicians
Pilgrims in white baseball caps wrapped themselves in blankets as temperatures dipped close to freezing as they trudged along roads to the site of the Mass in the early hours of this morning.
Conchita Tellez, 65, from the northwest border city of Mexicali, said she spent 38 hours on a bus to get to Ecatepec and was among the first in line for a spot at the Mass.
She expressed her hope Pope Francis will help ease the troubled soul of the country, where more than 100,000 people have been killed since the last President launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.
She said: ‘The Pope comes to Mexico at a very ugly moment and he comes to pray for us and for all those who lost hope and have submerged the country in blood and violence.’
The first two days of the 79-year-old Francis’ trip were filled with back-to-back public events
Always the showman, Pope Francis strikes a pose to the crowd after putting on the famous Mexican hat
Francis’ is visiting Ecatepec a day after his grueling schedule appeared to be already taking a toll. He seemed tired and winded at times Saturday, and appeared to nod off at an evening Mass. He also lost his balance and fell into a chair set up for him to pray.
The first two days of the 79-year-old Francis’ trip were filled with back-to-back public events. On Saturday, he issued a pair of tough-love messages to Mexico’s political and church elite, telling them they have a duty to provide security, justice and courageous pastoral care.
Speaking to the president and other members of government at the National Palace, Pope Francis said public officials must be honest and not be seduced by corruption and privilege that benefits the few to the detriment of the many.
Speaking to the president and other members of government at the National Palace, Pope Francis said public officials must be honest and not be seduced by corruption and privilege that benefits the few to the detriment of the many
In a subsequent address to his own bishops, he challenged church leaders known for their deference to Mexico’s wealthy and powerful to denounce the ‘insidious threat’ of the drug trade
Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Saturday evening
After delivering his homily, he sat silently in front of the image of the Virgin for nearly five minutes while the Mass continued. Later, he moved into a chamber behind the altar where the image is kept for nearly 30 minutes, fulfilling a wish to pray quietly before Mexico’s patron saint
In a subsequent address to his own bishops, he challenged church leaders known for their deference to Mexico’s wealthy and powerful to denounce the ‘insidious threat’ of the drug trade and be true pastors instead of career-minded clerics who spew inoffensive denunciations that make them sound like ‘babbling orphans beside a tomb.’
He urged bishops to get close to their flock and help Mexicans ‘finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened.’
Francis ended his public activities Saturday at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is the largest and most important Marian shrine in the world.
After delivering his homily, he sat silently in front of the image of the Virgin for nearly five minutes while the Mass continued. Later, he moved into a chamber behind the altar where the image is kept for nearly 30 minutes, fulfilling a wish to pray quietly before Mexico’s patron saint.
‘Just by looking at [the Virgin], Mexico can be understood completely,’ Francis said earlier.
Members of the Federal Police and the Mexican Army are pictured during a security operation ahead of Pope Francis’ vist, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
Members of the Mexican Army have been called in to ensure security is at its tightest during the Pope’s visit