During an upcoming trip to Mexico, Pope Francis is set express solidarity with migrants attempting to cross over the border into the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal. Francis is scheduled to hold a cross-border Mass Feb. 17 in Ciudad Juárez, at a spot less than a football field away from the U.S.
Francis is set to embark on a six-day trip to Mexico Friday and will conclude the visit with the Mass. About 200,000 people are expected to attend the Mass on the Mexican side of the border with some 50,000 more people in Texas.
"This is one community despite the fence," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi to reporters, via the Journal. "I think it will be moving to see this single community even though it is located on two sides of the border."
The move comes amid the contentious political season in the U.S., during which presidential candidates have frequently discussed immigration. Despite border crossings falling significantly over the past decade, popular Republican candidates Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have said they would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump has also said he would deport some 11 million undocumented immigrants. In addition, the winner of the New Hampshire primary previously made controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants, saying some who crossed the border were "criminals" and "rapists." As a son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, Francis is expected to travel along the border before the cross-border Mass and offer prayers for migrants.
Officials in the sprawling border-town of Ciudad Juárez -- long associated with violence and criminal activity -- hope that Francis' visit can work to give the city a new image, reported the Los Angeles Times. Officials have claimed a 40 percent drop in homicides over the last two years and expected some 450,000 visitors to come to the city for the Pope's visit.