Pope Francis delivers large Mass in crime-ridden Mexican suburb

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Pope Francis delivers Mass in Ecatepec, Mexico, during his historic visit to the largest Spanish-speaking Catholic country on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016.

Thousands of people gathered at a Mass in Mexico City's crime-ridden suburb of Ecatepec Sunday, which is the biggest event of Pope Francis' five-day trip to Mexico.

The Mexican bishops' conference said some 300,000 tickets were handed out and that an estimated 2 million lined the pope's motorcade route to the huge field where the liturgy took place. They tossed flower petals as Francis passed by and cheered with pom-poms in the yellow and white colors of the Vatican flag.

MORE: A look at Pope Francis' jam-packed schedule
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Pope Francis is expected to arrive Friday in Mexico, where he faces a jam-packed schedule following his brief stop in Cuba.

There are 1.7 million people in Ecatepec, a crime-ridden area where drug violence, executions and kidnappings are common. Another big problem is femicide, which is a crime involving violence and the murder of women.

Since 2005, 1,554 women have disappeared in Mexico State. The river was drained in the area and 16 bodies were found. During the Mass, Pope Francis said he is praying for the community and he stands with them.

The pope's five-day trip to the world's largest Spanish-speaking Catholic country is shining an uncomfortable spotlight on government and church shortcomings in dealing with social ills.

According to government statistics, about 46 percent of Mexicans live in poverty, including 10 percent in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the homicide rate rose precipitously between 2006 and 2011, before declining somewhat for the next three years and then ticking up again in 2015.

After delivering Mass, Pope Francis went to the Federico Gomez Pediatric Hospital where he visited sick children. The pontiff blessed the children and prayed with them during his visit.

Following his hospital visit, Pope Francis was scheduled to speak again at the National Auditorium, but had to cancel, citing exhaustion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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newsreligionpope francismexicou.s. & worldcrimecatholic church
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