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Pope Francis holds mass in poor Mexico suburb as millions turn out

The pontiff has raised the issues of violence and drugs in Mexico City's crime-ridden Ecatepec district. He has urged Mexicans to turn their country into a "land of opportunity."

About 300,000 tickets were handed out and more than 2 million people lined up to watch the pope's motorcade in Mexico City on Sunday. They threw flowers as Pope Francis passed by and waved yellow and white flags to signify the Vatican.

More than 10,000 police officers, soldiers and agents of the presidential guard were deployed to protect the papal motorcade and Mass.

In the capital's Ecatepec district, Pope Francis said it was time to make "this blessed land of Mexico a land of opportunity, where there will be no need to emigrate in order to dream, no need to be exploited in order to work, no need to make the despair and poverty of many the opportunism of a few, a land that will not have to mourn men and women, young people and children who are destroyed at the hands of the dealers of death."

Ecatepec is a sprawling district of Mexico City and the home to more than 1.6 million people. The area has a mix of good neighborhoods, coupled with gang-style kidnappings and executions.

"Let us get it into our heads: with the devil there is no dialogue," the pope said, referring to drug lords. "There can be no dialogue, because he will always defeat us," Francis added. "Only the power of the word of God can defeat him."

Touching hearts

"He is coming to Ecatepec because we need him here," Ignacia Godinez, 56, told reporters. "Kidnappings, robberies and drugs have all increased," she said, "and he is bringing comfort."

Thirty-five-year-old Graciela Elizalde said she felt safe and "protected by my faith and the joy of seeing the pope up close."

"The pope is not going to change things," Elizalde said, "but at least he will touch the hearts of those who do harm and are trying to destroy the country."

Pope Francis is on

a five-day visit to Mexico,

the world's largest Spanish-speaking country. His trip has highlighted the social ills plaguing the nation. Forty-six percent of its population lives in extreme poverty, and homicide rates have gone up. According to the National Observatory of Femicide, more than 1,554 women have gone missing in Mexico State in 2015 and last year, the government issued an alert over killings of women in Ecatepec.

mg/jlw (AFP, AP)

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