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Pope Francis urges Mexico's religious leaders to fight social ills

Pope Francis has issued a call to action to Mexico's religious leaders, urging them to take active roles in fighting the country's twin ills of drugs and gang violence.

At a Mass packed with more than 20,000 people on Tuesday, Pope Francis urged Mexico's religious leaders and young people to take an active role in combating drug use, gangland violence and corruption - a deadly cocktail that has claimed 100,000 lives over the past decade.

Gang wars have erupted

over an explosion of methamphetamine use that has turned into a lucrative trade, so much so that

the western state of Michoacan has been torn apart by kidnappings and extortion

.

This, in turn, has given rise to vigilante groups seeking to quell the violence, which only seems to have exacerbated it.

"What temptation can come to us from places often dominated by violence, corruption, drug trafficking, disregard for human dignity and indifference in the face of suffering and vulnerability?" the pope asked the packed stadium in Morelia, Michoacan's picturesque capital.

Before Francis entered the stadium, the crowd counted to 43 as an homage to the number of teacher trainees who were kidnapped and apparently massacred by a drug gang in 2014 in the nearby state of Guerrero.

Five-day visit

Mexiko Besuch des Papstes Willkommengruß

Awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis in Morelia

Outside the stadium thousands more crowded around

, hoping for a glimpse of the first Latin American pope. Francis is travelling to some of Mexico's poorest and most violent communities during his five-day visit to the country, which ends on Wednesday.

"It's a miracle that he has chosen to come here to lift our spirits," housewife Maria Hernandez, 66, told Reuters. "Michoacan has suffered so much."

Francis is also set to visit downtown Morelia to meet with youth groups in the city's cathedral.

"Everyone is hoping he brings some comfort, something that makes the people react and see things differently," said Miguel Angel Ruiz, a 58-year-old industrial consultant.

Francis summed up the problem with the clergy, if not all of Mexico, in one word, "resignation," which he called the devil's "favorite weapon."

He urged the clergy not to be apathetic, and for inspiration he held out the model of Vasco Vazquez de Quiroga, a 16th-century Spanish bishop who came to Central America (then known as New Spain) and, guided by a utopian vision, founded indigenous communities, where agriculture and handicrafts were taught.

Francis said de Quiroga witnessed colonial exploitation in the form of Indians being "sold, humiliated and homeless in marketplaces." But rather than resigning himself to inaction, de Quiroga was inspired to fight injustice, Francis reminded his flock.

During his trip Francis has chastised bishops for being gossips obsessed with coddling wealthy patrons and failing to denounce the evils of the drug trade. He called on Mexico's religious leaders to put aside their comfortable lives and commune more closely with their followers.

bik/kms (AP, Reuters)

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