After his visit to Kenya, Uganda and the conflict-torn Central African Republic in November, Pope Francis will head to areas ravaged by violence and the drug war in Mexico in February. The Argentine pontiff will visit the states of Michoacán, Chihuahua and Chiapas, as well as Mexico City, from Feb. 12 to 18, the Vatican announced in a schedule released Saturday.
The pope’s itinerary includes meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, Catholic bishops and indigenous leaders. During his time in Mexico City, Francis will lead a mass at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the shrine of the country's patron saint. The Vatican announced the visit Saturday during the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an important celebration for Mexico’s Catholics.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said Francis and Peña Nieto would discuss issues of security, human rights and poverty, Reuters reported. The Mexican president faces low approval ratings after several corruption and security scandals including the prison escape of the drug lord known as El Chapo.
The pope is likely to address social issues during his visit including violence stemming from the drug war as well as migration. The Vatican said he will meet with prisoners and labor representatives during his visit, AFP reported.
Both Michoacán, in the west of Mexico, and Chihuahua in the north, are known for violence connected to the country’s drug war. Ciudad Juarez, a northern border city the pope will visit, is known as Mexico’s murder capital. Many migrants also use Ciudad Juarez as a point from which to cross into the United States. Chiapas, a southern state, has a high poverty rate and a large indigenous population. Francis, the South American-born leader, has spoken out on social issues since his election to the papacy in 2013.
This will be Francis’ first visit to Mexico but his fourth to Latin America. Pope Benedict XVI visited Mexico in 2012 and Pope John Paul II made several visits over the course of his papacy.