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Pope heads to Mexico's drug heartland

Pope Francis has denounced the exclusion and exploitation of indigenous people on a visit to Mexico's impoverished Chiapas state. Afterwards, he prepared to visit Morelia, the capital of gang-plagued Michoacan.

The Pope celebrating mass in San Cristobal de las Casas before continuing his jouney to Michoacan (Photo: AFP)

The Pope celebrating mass in San Cristobal de las Casas before continuing his journey to Michoacan

In Morelia on Tuesday, Pope Francis was scheduled to meet with young people, whom he is holding up as the hope for a better future for a region wracked by violence and gang warfare of the drug trade. About 660 children and 90,000 youths from all over Mexico are expecting the pontiff in the capital of Michoacan.

The pope began his Mexico trip Friday night. During this visit, he repeatedly criticized the Mexican church leadership, many of whom have been reluctant to denounce the wealthy and powerful elite.

His stop in the capital of Michoacan is also seen as a symbol of his strong support of Morelia Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda, whom Pope Francis made a cardinal last year.

In 2013, during a time of strong violence in Michoacan, Suarez Inda led eight other bishops in signing a very outspoken letter accusing government authorities of "complicity, forced or willing" with criminal gangs. The letter urged priests to "do whatever is in your power" to help people in an atmosphere of kidnappings and murders.

Suarez Inda was also part of a group of priests who prepared a report on Mexico's drug violence last year that he said left Pope Francis "very shocked and impressed."

Francis denounced the exploitation and exclusion of Mexico's indigenous people during a visit to the state of Chiapas on Monday. "Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior," he said. "Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them." He called for a collective apology.

In San Cristobal de las Casas, he celebrated a mass that included readings in three native languages of the region.

Pope Francis also prayed before the tomb of the controversial Bishop Samuel Ruiz, who helped Mexico's poorest and supported blending indigenous traditions into Catholic rituals.

das (AP, EFE)

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