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Pope buoys the hopes of Mexicans
Pontiff celebrates Mass in violence-plagued nation; Cuba next on Latin tour
SILAO, Mexico — Pope Benedict XVI addressed hundreds of thousands of Mexicans seeking a message of hope for their violence-plagued country at an open-air Mass on Sunday, saying renewing their hearts and faith would help them in troubled times.
He urged Christians "to look deeply into the human heart, especially in times of sorrow as well as hope, as are the present times for the people of Mexico and of Latin America." He spoke in the shadow of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Catholicism.
Benedict compared the need for a "pure, sincere, humble" heart in present times to the situation in biblical Israel, "as it became aware of the persistence in its midst of evil and sin as a power, practically implacable and impossible to overcome."
He began celebrating the Mass by presenting the gift of a mosaic of Christ to be displayed at the monument.
The pope flew over the monument in a Mexican military Superpuma helicopter en route to the Mass site at Bicentennial Park, where he rode in the "popemobile" through an enthusiastic crowd. One person handed the pope a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero that he wore on his way to the altar at the sun-drenched park.
"We pray for him to help us, that there be no more violence in the country," said Lorena Diaz, 50, who owns a jeans factory in Leon. "We pray that he gives us peace."
Benedict wanted to come to Guanajuato state specifically to see and bless the statue, which Pope John Paul II always wanted to visit but never did, said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The 72-foot-high bronze monument of Christ with its outstretched arms serves as a potent reminder to Mexicans of the 1926-1929 Roman Catholic uprising against the government and its anti-clerical laws that prohibited public Masses.
The statue "expresses an identity of the Mexican people that contains a whole history in relation to the testimony of faith and those who fought for religious freedom at the time," said Monsignor Victor Rene Rodriguez, secretary-general of the Mexican bishops conference.
Guanajuato state was the site of some of the key battles of the Cristero War, so-called because its protagonists said they were fighting for Christ the King. Historians say about 90,000 people died before peace was restored. The region remains Mexico's most conservatively Catholic.
Many Mexicans said they were surprised by the warmth of Benedict, whose image is more reserved and academic than his popular predecessor, John Paul II, who was dubbed "Mexico's pope."
"Some young people rejected the pope, saying he has an angry face. But now they see him like a grandfather," said Cristian Roberto Cerda Reynoso, 17, a seminarian from Leon. "I see the youth filled with excitement and enthusiasm."
The 84-year-old pope is going to Cuba on Monday.
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