The Latest: Pope ventures out again to greet faithful

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Posted: Feb 13, 2016 11:27 PM
The Latest: Pope ventures out again to greet faithful

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The latest on Pope Francis' visit to Mexico (all times local):

9:05 p.m.

For a second night, Pope Francis has ventured out of the Vatican ambassador's residence where he is staying in Mexico City to pray with the faithful who have not stopped chanting since his arrival.

He asked if they were tired, to which he received a resounding "No!"

"We could go until 4 a.m.?" the pope asked. "Yesss," the crowd answered. "Well, but that could be a little long," he responded.

Francis then led the crowd in prayer. He urged them to think of their friends and their problems. Then he urged them to think about a stranger who must have a big problem. He said each person should ask God through the Virgin to take away those problems and to bless the person, their friends and the stranger.

After reminding everyone that they should go to Mass on Sunday, the pope told them to rest and asked them to pray for him, then went back inside the gates.

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8:45 p.m.

Vatican officials estimate as many as 1 million people came out to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis during his first full day in Mexico.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the figure includes people who lined the motorcade routes Saturday as well as those who attended the pope's Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe and gathered at the capital's main square.

Crowds are also expected to be big Sunday when Francis goes to the crime-ridden suburb of Ecatepec for his biggest Mass in Mexico. The site has a capacity for 400,000 people.

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8:05 p.m.

Pope Francis has arrived at the Vatican ambassador's residence in Mexico City.

Unlike Friday night, when the popemobile passed through the residence's gates, Francis had his small Fiat sedan stopped just outside. He exited the car and spent several minutes blessing people in the crowd, placing his hand on their heads and kissing children held out to him.

On Friday night, Francis came out of the gate nearly an hour after arriving and spoke to the assembled crowd.

Saturday night's stop before entering could indicate the very tired pontiff doesn't plan any more activities for the night.

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7:50 p.m.

Pope Francis' address to Mexican bishops on Saturday morning included an apparent criticism of people's devotion to the so-called Santa Muerte, or Death Saint.

Santa Muerte is a skeletal, cloaked female figure who carries a scythe in her bony hand. She is worshipped by drug dealers and other criminals in Mexico, but also by some downtrodden residents of the neighborhoods lorded over by the gangs.

Francis said he was "particularly concerned" by those who "praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death in exchange for money."

He urged bishops "not to underestimate the moral and anti-social challenge which the drug trade represents."

An academic who has written a book on the Death Saint cults says the pope's words were "a clear allusion" to Santa Muerte. Andrew Chesnut of Virginia Commonwealth Unviersity notes that the Catholic Church views Santa Muerte leaders as "charlatans" who use the image to turn a quick buck.

In 2013, the Vatican's culture minister called Santa Muerte a blasphemous symbol that shouldn't be part of any religion.

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7:30 p.m.

Pope Francis has left the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City after celebrating Mass and spending several minutes praying privately in front of the Virgin's image.

After arriving in the open-air popemobile, the visibly exhausted pontiff opted to take his small Fiat sedan back through the chilly night air.

The Mass was his last scheduled event for Saturday and he was expected to return to the Vatican ambassador's residence for the night.

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6:15 p.m.

After delivering his homily, Pope Francis sat silently in an armchair that was moved in front of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe while the service continued in Mexico City.

He spent nearly five minutes in front of the image of Mexico's patron saint, fulfilling a wish to simply have time to pray quietly without being rushed.

Earlier in the day at the capital's cathedral, Francis told assembled bishops that "just by looking at the (Virgin), Mexico can be understood completely."

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6 p.m.

Pope Francis is appearing tired toward the end of his second day in Mexico. An aide apparently nudged Francis awake after he nodded off during Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The 79-year-old Francis has had an exhausting two days, coupled with a seven-hour time zone difference. He has readily admitted to snoozing while praying even when at home.

Mexico City's altitude of more than 7,000 feet provides an added challenge to those not acclimatized, perhaps especially for Francis, who lost part of one lung.

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5:50 p.m.

Pope Francis has delivered a homily at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Not surprisingly, the homily focused on the story of the Virgin revealing herself to the peasant Indian Juan Diego in 1531.

In Francis' words, "Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel, like him 'worthless.'"

The pope also alluded to the themes of his visit: poverty, immigration and crime.

He said, "On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands. On that morning, God came close and still comes close to the suffering but resilient hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost or even being taken by criminals."

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4:50 p.m.

Thousands of faithful have greeted Pope Francis at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, where he is to celebrate the first Mass of his visit to the country.

Stands are packed with people holding balloons and flags in a festive atmosphere befitting a rock star's welcome. Chants of his name can be heard inside the basilica.

Seventy-seven-year-old Catalina Ramirez says she came to the Basilica on Saturday to beseech the Virgin and the pope to help her great-granddaughter recover from surgery for cerebral palsy.

Ramirez adds that she's excited to witness her first papal Mass and hopes Francis "comes to rescue us."

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4:15 p.m.

Pope Francis is rolling through the streets of the Mexican capital again after an afternoon break at the residence where he is staying.

Thousands of people are lined up along the pontiff's route to wave as he passes in an open-air popemobile.

Francis is heading to northern Mexico City to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is considered the largest and most important Marian shrine in the world.

The basilica is home to an image of the Virgin that is said to have miraculously imprinted itself on a cloak belonging to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin is known as the patron saint of Mexico and "empress of the Americas."

Francis has spoken reverently of his "most intimate desire" to pray before the icon, which is beloved by many Latin Americans.

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1:00 p.m.

Pope Francis is cruising across Mexico City in a tiny white Fiat, keeping with his tradition of eschewing fancy big cars.

While Francis has clocked nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers) so far in his open-air popemobile, he took a spin in the Fiat after meeting with bishops at the capital's grand cathedral Friday.

Francis moves around the Vatican in a Ford Focus and tends to stick with economy cars when traveling. In South Korea, it was a Kia. In the United States, a black Fiat.

In another nod to his thrifty ways, three of the five popemobiles Francis will use in Mexico are being recycled from his U.S. trip in September.

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11:40 a.m.

Pope Francis is demanding Mexican bishops courageously challenge the "insidious threat" posed by the drug trade, saying the Catholic hierarchy must help Mexicans escape the violence and corruption plaguing their nation and not hide behind their own privilege and careers.

In a hard-hitting speech to a church hierarchy known for its deference to Mexico's wealthy and powerful, Francis told bishops they must be true pastors to their people and not just spew words and inoffensive denunciations like "babbling orphans beside a tomb."

Rather, he said the horrors of drug violence required "prophetic courage" from the church and a pastoral plan that involves families, parishes, schools and communities.

He said that only with such a church-inspired plan "will people finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened."

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11:25 a.m.

Two women who came to Mexico City's historic center to see Pope Francis say they are ready to answer his call for young people to build a better world.

Twenty-year-old Brenda Ramirez thinks it's important for the pontiff to focus on young people and progress. She says that "if he needs us for that, that seems good to me."

Seventeen-year-old Alejandra Bautista adds that "young people have good ideas and I like that the pope sees it that way."

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11:20 a.m.

Pope Francis' tour though Mexico's National Palace dramatizes the remarkable turnabouts in the country's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

President Enrique Pena Nieto escorted the pontiff beneath enormous murals by Diego Rivera, a flamboyant Marxist who imbued the works with the passionate anti-clericalism of the Mexican Revolution.

The murals give grim images of the Catholic priests who accompanied the Spanish conquest and who helped rule Mexico for 300 years. One is shown as grotesquely obese and pig-like, others as torturers. Mexico's rulers broke with the church after independence and barred public displays of religion. Many of the restrictions weren't lifted until 1992.

Still, the mural doesn't vilify all. Among the heroes it portrays are priests Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos, leaders of the fight for independence.

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10:55 a.m.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says he shares Pope Francis' concerns about the "great challenges ... doubts and uncertainties" that the nation faces.

In a speech alongside the pope at Mexico's National Palace, Pena Nieto mentioned hunger, inequality and the dangers of people "letting themselves be carried away by evil."

He also criticized "continuing barriers and obstacles to the migration of people who seek a better life."

Francis' visit to the world's largest Spanish-speaking nation comes as it is afflicted by drug violence, corruption and social ills — themes on which the pontiff has repeatedly expressed concern.

Pena Nieto said Saturday it was an honor to receive a pope for the first time in Mexico's ceremonial seat of presidential power, and a reflection of good relations between the country and the Vatican.

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10:30 a.m.

Pope Francis is telling Mexico's political leaders that they have a duty to provide their people with security, "true justice" and basic services as he plunges head-on into the topic of drug-inspired violence, corruption and social ills that afflict the country.

In a speech to President Enrique Pena Nieto and government authorities Saturday, Francis said those in public office responsible for the common good must be honest and upright and not be seduced by privilege.

He said political leaders had a "particular duty" to ensure their people had "indispensable" material and spiritual goods: "adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment." He said it wasn't enough just to pass laws, but for all Mexicans to take responsibility to help the country.

Francis' entire trip is shining an uncomfortable spotlight on the government's failure to solve entrenched social ills that plague many parts of Mexico — poverty, rampant gangland killings, extortion, disappearances of women, crooked cops and failed city services.

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9:35 a.m.

Pope Francis has arrived at Mexico's presidential palace for an official welcome ceremony after taking a 14-kilometer (8.7-mile) journey through Mexico City in his popemobile, to the adoration of tens of thousands of people who lined the route.

Under a brilliant sun and morning chill, Francis was welcomed at the palace Saturday by President Enrique Pena Nieto and his wife. Military bands played the Mexican and Holy See anthems as Francis stood solemnly.

Francis' first order of business is a private meeting with Pena followed by a speech to the country's political leadership, where he's expected to address the drug violence and corruption tormenting Mexico. He then moves to the city cathedral for a hard-hitting address on how the Catholic Church should help Mexicans cope with the many social ills afflicting the country. He ends his day in what he has said would be his "most intimate desire": praying before the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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8:45 a.m.

Tens of thousands of cheering Mexicans have gathered outside the residence where Pope Francis is staying to send him off on his first full day in Mexico: an official welcome at the presidential palace, a meeting with the country's bishops and a Mass at the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Cheers went up as Francis pulled out in his popemobile and abruptly stopped to greet elderly, sick and disabled people who had gathered outside the residence of the Vatican nuncio. He handed out rosaries to faithful in wheelchairs and embraced a young boy wearing a surgical mask.

Thousands more Mexicans are lining his motorcade route and history's first Latin American pope is basking in the welcome from the largest Spanish-speaking Catholic country in the world.