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Pope Benedict XVI holds Mass in shadow of Christ the King monument

March 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Marking the highlight of his historic visit to Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI held an open-air Mass in the shadow of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Catholicism.

The 72-foot bronze monument of Christ with outstretched arms serves as a powerful reminder to Mexicans of the 1926-1929 Roman Catholic uprising against the government and its anti-clerical laws that prohibited public Masses like the one Benedict delivered in front of 350,000 people on Sunday.

After the mass, Benedict flew over the monument, which was modeled after Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue, and blessed it from the air. After nightfall, he remotely inaugurated its new lighting system.

The visit warmed many Mexicans to a pontiff they often saw as austere. Benedict charmed the crowd by donning a broad-brimmed Mexican charro sombrero as he arrived to the Mass in his popemobile.

All fell silent as the ceremony began. In his homily, Benedict encouraged Mexicans to purify their hearts to confront the sufferings, difficulties and evils of daily life.

"At this time when so many families are separated or forced to emigrate, when so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime, we come to Mary in search of consolation, strength and hope," Benedict said in a prayer at the end of Mass.

Saturday, Pope Benedict met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Guanajuato city and spoke to thousands of children in the colonial-era city's Peace Plaza, telling them they are each a "gift of God to Mexico and the world."

"The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity," Benedict said. "I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony."

The 84-year-old pope called on the children to be messengers of peace in a country traumatized by the deaths of more than 47,000 people in a drug war that has escalated during a government offensive against cartels.

Of the 43.5 million Mexicans under age 20, 36.2 million are Catholic, or 83.2 percent, just under the national average. The largest group of Mexicans overall are children aged 5 to 9 - a prime target for Benedict's efforts to rebuild a church that has fallen victim to the same secular trends that have emptied churches across Europe.

The weeklong trip to Mexico and Cuba is Benedict's first to both countries, and only his second to Latin America. He visited Brazil in 2007.

The Pope was set to depart for Cuba on Monday morning.

See photos Pope Benedict XVI's Latin America trip.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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