Pope Benedict XVI condemns Mexico's drug violence

The BBC's Will Grant: "Among the crowd are all three presidential candidates as well as the world's richest man"

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Pope Benedict XVI has condemned drug-trafficking and corruption at a huge open-air Mass in central Mexico.

He urged Catholics to look to their faith in response to poverty and crime and to reject violence and revenge.

More than 500,000 people gathered to hear his message beside the Christ the King monument in Silao - one of the most important symbols of Mexican Catholicism.

Pope Benedict was on his first visit to the Latin American country.

"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," he said in a prayer.

Mexico has the world's second largest Catholic congregation after Brazil.

At the scene

The Church will overall be extremely pleased with how this trip has gone.

It was aimed to do two things: shore up the Catholic Church in Mexico, which has recently lost followers to more evangelical denominations, and show Pope Benedict to be concerned with the plight of the victims of the drug conflict.

To a certain extent it achieved both those goals.

With their singing, chanting and dancing, the young people suggested the future of Catholicism is still very secure in Mexico.

The question now is how the Pope will fare on the next leg of his tour: a more politically complicated trip to communist Cuba awaits.

Huge crowds have turned out to greet the Pope during his visit, and thousands camped out in Silao's Bicentennial Park overnight on Saturday awaiting the Mass.

"We could hardly sleep because of the emotion and now we can see the Pope," said Xochitl Alvarez, an indigenous woman who said she had travelled hundreds of miles from southern Mexico.

The main candidates for July's presidential election were in attendance, as well as Mexican tycoons including Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world.

Welcome presence

On Saturday, the Pope had talks with President Felipe Calderon, with whom he discussed the drug-related violence that has killed more than 47,000 Mexicans over the past five years.

The Mexican presidency said the Pope's private meeting with Mr Calderon covered a range of topics including climate change and organised crime.

Pope Benedict XVI wears a traditional Mexican hat while driving through the crowd in Silao The Pope's visit to Silao was the showpiece event of his first trip to Mexico

The BBC's Will Grant in Mexico says few expect that the Pope's visit will have a significant impact on Mexico's complicated political and military situation, but the country's Catholics are largely glad of his presence.

However, his tour has been dogged by protests over child sex abuse scandals in the Church and criticism of his stance of gay rights.

Some 88% of Mexicans - almost 100 million people - are Roman Catholic, and the Pope's predecessor, John Paul II, was a regular visitor to the country.

On Monday, the Pope's tour will take him to Cuba.

He has said the island's Marxist structure "no longer corresponds to reality" and called for "new models" of government to be put in place.

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