Pope Francis opened a long-anticipated visit to Mexico on Saturday, demanding that Mexican leaders provide "true justice" and security in a country wracked by years of endemic drug violence, official corruption and poverty.
Francis told President Enrique Pena Nieto and assembled lawmakers in Mexico City that they have a responsibility to help citizens gain access to "indispensable material and spiritual goods," including housing, employment and a peaceful environment.
In a country where drug trafficking has corrupted entire police forces and where drug violence has claimed more than 100,000 lives in recent years, Francis warned against permitting privilege for an elite class at the expense of the rest of society.
"Experience teaches us that each time we seek a path of privilege or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, the drug trade, the exclusion of different cultures, violence, and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death," he said.
Thousands of faithful outside the National Palace cheered as the pontiff spoke.
Pope Francis meets with bishops at the Metropolitan Cathedral at Zocalo Square in Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016.
Challenge to clerics
In a separate address to Mexican bishops, Francis urged the clerics to take a more aggressive stand against drug trafficking and corruption. He challenged church leaders to denounce what he called the "insidious threat" posed by trafficking.
A woman waits for the arrival of Pope Francis at the Guadalupe's Basilica in Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016.
Thousands of people packed the streets Saturday to greet the Argentina-born pontiff, who had received a red-carpet welcome late Friday.
On Sunday, Francis will celebrate an open air Mass in Ecatepec, one of the many suburbs of the capital hit by spiraling crime.
Earlier this week in Ecatepec, protesters demanded that the security measures put in place for the papal visit become permanent to combat the daily robberies, kidnappings, extortion and homicides in Ecatepec and elsewhere in the state of Mexico, which includes the capital.
According to the National Citizens Observatory on Femicide (killings of women), in 2011 and 2012, nearly 1,300 girls and women — more than half between the ages of 10 and 17 — disappeared in the state of Mexico, while 448 were slain, many in gruesome fashion. Further data show that only about one in four such cases were investigated, with less than 2 percent of those leading to arrests and convictions.
Youths dance outside Guadalupe's basilica while waiting for the arrival of Pope Francis in Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016.
The pope travels Monday to Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state, where he will preside over a Mass conducted in three indigenous languages. He then will visit Morelia, capital of the western state of Michoacan, where farmers in 2013 took up arms to battle the so-called Knights Templar drug cartel.
Francis will cap his visit Wednesday in the U.S.-Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's former murder capital, where he is expected to address issues of crime, trafficking and migration.