Pope Benedict XVI began his twenty-third apostolic trip abroad on March 23, which is taking him to Mexico and Cuba. The pontiff left Rome during the morning hours and is due to arrive in the Mexican state of Guanajuato 4.30 p.m. local time. He will arrive at the airport of Leon, the fourth largest city in Mexico, which lies at the geographical center of the country.
The Catholic leader will remain in Mexico until March 26, during which time he will lodge in the Miraflores College, an educational institution named after a Carthusian monastery in Spain, which is operated by the Sisters Servants of the Blessed Eucharist and of the Mother of God.
The Pope's three-day agenda is as follows: On March 24, he will meet President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, and then greet and bless children and faithful in Leon's Plaza de la Paz. On Sunday, March 25, he will preside at Mass in the Parque Bicentenario and, that evening, preside at Vespers in the cathedral of Leon. He is due to depart for Cuba on the following day.
In his weekly editorial for "Octavia Dies", Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. - who serves as the Pope's press officer - spoke of the reasons for the trip to Mexico and Cuba:
The bicentenary of the independence of the peoples of Latin America;
Mexicans' enthusiastic desire to welcome the Pope;
The twentieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the Holy See,
and the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the image of "Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre" in Cuba, with its concomitant Holy Year.
However, Fr, Lombardi notes, "this voyage to the heart of the Americas also has a specific purpose. It will be a journey of hope. Hope for Mexicans, a people with immense resources and potential, but currently afflicted by serious problems which weigh on their present and future, first among them the problem of violence".
Fr. Lombardi also spoke of "hope for Cubans, who feel they are on the threshold of what is potentially a new epoch, in which John Paul II's words on the reciprocal openness of Cuba and the world may be realized in a climate of development, freedom and reconciliation".
Finally, Fr. Lombardi mentioned "the hope of all Latin America, where a Church committed to the 'continental mission' launched at the Aparecida Conference, wishes to continue making her inspirational contribution to the progress of the continent, so that human and Christian values may guarantee integral human development, despite the difficulties and dangers of our time".
Mexican police raids resulted in the largest seizure of narcotics ever discovered in the world in recent days in the state of Guerrero, on Mexico's Pacific coast. The drug war has only intensified nationally, but narcoterrorists have agreed to a temporary cessation of combat in the state of Guanajuato in honor of the pontiff's visit. Representatives of narcotics cartels initially displayed banners in February agreeing to a plea by Archbishop José Guadalupe Martín Rábago to cease their murderous campaign. These 'narcomantas' - handlettered banners strung across streets in several neighbourhoods of Leon - appeared again in recent days and reiterated the offer of a temporary respite in the fighting. These were put up by a group calling itself the Knights Templar.
Activities by the drug cartels, which are met with stiff resistance by Mexico's military, have continued elsewhere. For example, in the northern state of Tamaulipas, gunmen tossed grenades into a police headquarters in Ciudad Victoria on March 16 and wounded two persons. Another grenade attack at a bar in Monterrey in Nuevo Leon state killed one person and severely wounded seven others. During the month of March, there were multiple firefights between elements of the CJNG and Los Zetas, and the Mexican military -- resulting in the March 9 arrest of the top leader of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), Erick "El 85" Valencia Salazar.
On March 16, Mexican police discovered the bodies of two executed males along with a message signed by CJNG, which stated that the group is united and self-sufficient and continues in its fight against kidnappers and extortionists. The message also claimed CJNG was in charge of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Colima, Michoacan and Veracruz. On the next day, the body of a man was found hanging from a bridge in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara, Jalisco state, along with a narcomanta addressed to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera and signed by well-known Los Zetas leader Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales.