Throngs gather for pope's Mass in Mexico

Story highlights

  • State media: More than 400,000 people attend the Mass
  • The pope urges Mexican Catholics to remain true to their faith
  • Cheering onlookers wave balloons, flags and banners as the pope arrives
  • The pope travels to Cuba Monday

Pope Benedict XVI led an open-air Mass Sunday before throngs of faithful Catholics in central Mexico.

Cheering onlookers waved balloons, flags and banners as the pope arrived at Bicentennial Park in Mexico's Guanajuato state. Many said they had spent the night camped out, awaiting the pope's arrival.

More than 400,000 people attended the Mass, according to Mexico's state-run Notimex news agency.

The pope urged Mexican Catholics to remain true to their faith, and called on the Virgin Mary to "continue accompanying and protecting her beloved Mexican and Latin American children, so that Christ reigns in their lives and helps them to boldly promote peace, harmony, justice and solidarity."

The pope's visit to Mexico comes as church leaders there grapple with brutal drug-related violence. More than 47,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon began a crackdown on cartels in December 2006.

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The Archbishop of Leon asked the pope to deliver a message of hope to crowds gathered Sunday, noting that Mexico faces "events of violence and death that have created a painful sensation of fear, impotence and pain."

"We know that this dramatic reality has perverse roots that feed it, poverty, the absence of opportunity, corruption, impunity, the inefficient administration of justice," Archbishop of Leon Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago said.

    The pope arrived in Mexico on Friday on his first trip to Spanish-speaking Latin America. He visited Portuguese-speaking Brazil in 2007 and the United States a year later.

    He is scheduled to arrive in Cuba Monday.

    Guanajuato state, which is hosting the pontiff, boasts the highest percentage of Catholics in Mexico -- well over 90 percent. Nationally, the number of Catholics is 83 percent, according to Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography.