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Pope leads politically-charged Mass at US-Mexico border

Pope Francis has spoken out against the "spiral of violence and hell of drugs" that has forced many to flee their countries for the US. His comments come as US presidential candidates debate expelling illegal migrants.

Pope Francis on Wednesday held a politically-charged Mass in Mexico's Ciudad Juarez - once considered the deadliest city in the world - less than 100 meters (328 feet) from the US border.

"We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis, which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones," the pope said.

"They are our brothers and sisters, who are being expelled by poverty and violence, drug trafficking and organized crime," the Argentine pontiff said at the end of his five-day visit to Mexico.

Thousands of Mexicans, Central Americans and Asians have attempted to cross into the US in recent years, some at the strategic crossing between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso in Texas.

"Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are 'cannon fodder,' persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs," the pontiff added, referring to gang violence spurred on by drug cartels, which has impacted several regions in Mexico.

The Mass was simultaneously broadcast via video link at the Sun Bowl stadium across the border in El Paso, where some 30,000 people gathered to watch the event.

'Very political person'

In the US, immigration reform has prompted a divisive debate ahead of the presidential election in November.

Republican frontrunners Senator Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump have vowed to expel more than 11 million migrants who have entered the US illegally and build a wall across the US-Mexico border.

Last week, Trump told Fox Television that the pope is a "very political person," suggesting that the Mexican government was profiteering from the pope's Mass near the US-Mexico border.

"I don't think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico," Trump said. "I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They're making a fortune, and we're losing."

When asked about the presidential hopeful's comments Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said they were "very strange indeed."

"The pope always speaks of the problems of immigration. If Mr. Trump were to come to Europe he would see that the pope has said the same things about immigration to the Italians, the Germans, the French and the Hungarians," Lombardi said shortly before the pontiff arrived in Ciudad Juarez.

Watch video 01:20

Pope Francis visits Mexican prison

ls/cmk (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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