CIUDAD JUÁREZ – Just as God called Nineveh to conversion, so too are we called to conversion, through mercy, said Pope Francis at El Punto in the former Juárez Fairgrounds next to the U.S.-Mexico border during the last day of his apostolic visit to Mexico.
The Holy Father landed in Juárez from Morelia earlier in the day. During his day in Juárez, a city which has been plagued by cartel violence over the last decade, he visited the local seminary, addressed a group of prisoners and spoke to members of the maquiladora industry.
But the climax of his day-long visit to Juárez was the Mass on the fairgrounds. Thousands of people stood in line, some who had been waiting as early as 6 a.m., to get into the Mass. They watched a live video feed of the Holy Father’s motorcade traveling through the streets of Juárez as they waited for him to arrive. As they waited, they chanted “Viva el Papa!”, “Viva Francisco!”, “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”, “Viva Cristo Rey!” and “Viva Padre Maldonado” (St. Pedro Maldonado, one of the Cristero priest martyrs who was from Chihuahua, the Mexican state where Juárez is located).
“Aquí viene el Papa (Here comes the pope)!” announced an emcee for the pre-Mass festivities, as the faithful cheered while watching the Popemobile come into El Punto. As he rode in, the pilgrims sang “Francisco es,” the official song for the Holy Father’s apostolic visit.
Referencing the day’s first reading from Jonah, Pope Francis said that we find the mystery of Divine Mercy.
“Far from bringing destruction, as we so often desire or want to bring about ourselves, mercy seeks to transform each situation from within,” he said. “Herein lies the mystery of Divine Mercy. It seeks and invites us to conversion, it invites us to repentance; it invites us to see the damage being done at every level.”
Mercy entered the hearts of the Ninevites when Jonah entered their city. This reveals that there is always a possibility for change, the pope said.
“Following this, his call found men and women capable of repenting, and capable of weeping,” he said. “To weep over injustice, to cry over corruption, to cry over oppression.”
These tears, he said, lead to transformation, purify our gaze and enable us to see the cycle of sin we are in and can sensitize our gaze and attitude hardened in the face of another’s suffering. They are “tears that can break us, capable of conversion.”
The passage is a relevant one for us today, said the Holy Father, inviting us to conversion, especially in this Year of Mercy. He then acknowledged the thousands of immigrants from Central America and other countries, as well as many Mexicans, who cross the border in Juárez, as in other border areas to pass over “to the other side.”
“Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of trade in human beings,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Calling forced migration a human tragedy and global phenomenon, he said that it’s a crisis that can be measured in numbers and statistics, but is better measured with names, stories and families.
“They are the brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said. “Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. … 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. Then there are many women unjustly robbed of their lives.”
Like the Ninevites, the Holy Father challenged the faithful to ask God for the gifts of conversion, tears and open hearts.
“No more death! No more exploitation! There is still time to change, there is still a way out and a chance, a time to implore the mercy of God!”
At the end his homily, the pope acknowledged those watching a live telecast across the border at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Sun Bowl.
“Thanks to the help of technology we can pray, sing and celebrate together the love and mercy that the Lord gives us in which no border can stop us from participating in,” he said. “Thank you to our brothers and sisters in El Paso for making us feel like one family and the same Christian community.”
At the end of the Mass, he thanked the Mexican people for their hospitality, calling the country a “surprise.” Noting all the children he saw along his papal route, he said they were the future of Mexico.
“Let us care for them, love them. Children are the prophets of tomorrow, they are signs of the new dawn,” he said. “I assure you that there was a moment when I felt like crying to see so much hope in a people that have suffered so much.
“Mary, the Mother of Guadalupe continues to visit you, continues walking on this land. Mexico doesn’t make sense without her. She continues to help you be missionaries and witnesses of mercy,” he added.
Closing with his signature petition, he asked the people “Please, I ask you, don’t forget to pray for me,” as the faithful cheered cheering, “Francisco, hermano, ya eres Mexicano (Francis, brother, now you are Mexican)!”