In one of the most visibly affectionate messages of his papacy, Pope Francis has sent a video to the people of Mexico in preparation for his upcoming visit.
“As my trip to Mexico draws near,” Francis said, “I feel a great joy. I always have a special remembrance in my prayers for all Mexicans. I hold them in my heart, and now I can visit them and set foot on that blessed land, which is beloved of God, and so close to the Virgin Mary.”
The Pope had expressed a desire to visit Mexico prior to his trip to the United States last September, but scheduling complications precluded it. He will now travel to the country from February 12-18, where he will visit a pediatric hospital, meet with an indigenous community in the southern Chiapas region, speak to youth and workers, and celebrate Mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Francis said the purpose of his visit is to travel “as a missionary of mercy and peace.” He said that he wants to meet the Mexicans “to confess together our faith in God and share a fundamental truth in our lives, that God loves us very much, with an infinite love, beyond what we deserve.”
“I want to be close to you, but especially to you who suffer, to hug you and tell you that Jesus loves you, that He is always by your side,” he said.
A year ago, the Pope ruffled a few feathers when in a private letter to an Argentinian friend, he cautioned against Argentina falling into “Mexicanization,” used in the pejorative sense of a rampant illegal drug trade as well as widespread political corruption. The Vatican was quick to offer an official apology to the country, and all signs suggest that the Mexican people had no trouble forgiving the popular Pontiff.
In his video message Monday, Francis expressed happiness that the Mexican people are preparing for his trip with much prayer. “Prayer enlarges our hearts,” Francis said, “and prepares us to receive the gifts of God. Prayer enlightens our eyes to learn to see others as God sees them, to love as God loves,” he said.
The Pope said that most of all, he looked forward to visiting “the house of the Virgin Mary,” referring to his visit to the national shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Catholic patroness of the Americas.
“As a child,” he said, “I used to come to our Mother and put at her feet everything I carried in my heart. It’s nice to visit our mother’s house, and feel the tenderness of her gracious presence,” he said.
Several days ago, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will meet with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill en route to Mexico, becoming the first pope ever to meet with the spiritual leader of “Moscow and All Russia.”
The two church leaders agreed to meet in the Havana airport, since Kirill already planned to be in Cuba on an official visit.
“This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches,” a joint statement read.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.