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Emotional Welcome Greets Pope in Mexico

The moment Pope Benedict XVI's plane was spotted in the skies over Guanajuato, Mexico on Friday, the faithful poured from their homes and lined the streets, sometimes five and six rows deep, with many crying tears of joy as church bells began to peal throughout the area in welcome.

According to the Associated Press, the pope responded with equal emotion when he stepped off the plane to the roar of cheers and the ringing of the bells: “This is a proud country of hospitality, and nobody feels like a stranger in your land,” Benedict said. “I knew that. Now I see it and now I feel it in my heart.”

The people were especially thrilled when Benedict delivered a message from his predecessor Blessed John Paul II, who visited Mexico five times but never made it to Guanajuato, which is considered one of the most Catholic in Mexico. While passing over the area in the papal jet in 1979, John Paul issued a message to the people which was lost for three decades and appeared only in a book prepared by the Mexican Catholic Episcopal Conference at the time.

“It would be very pleasing to have visited your beloved land, but circumstances have not permitted the time for it,” the late Pope said. “I exhort you to remain faithful in your faith, to love Christ and the Church, in intimate union with your pastors . . . As a sign of my great affection for you all I offer a special blessing, thanking you for your affection for the Pope and your fidelity to the Lord. May God bless you always.”

The message lit a glow in the hearts of all who heard it and found the faithful lining more than 20 miles of the pope's route from the airport into Leon shouting the ultimate welcome: “Benedict, brother, you are now Mexican!”

Throughout his trip, Benedict spoke with great affection for the people who were touched by his tenderness and compassion.

For instance, on Saturday evening, he addressed thousands of children in Leon's Plaza de Paz, telling them that God wants them to be happy.

“He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness," he said.

God, he said, “wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends.”

He also called upon all Mexicans to “protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.”

The Catholic News Agency reports that the following day, he delivered a moving homily to the more than 600,000 people who celebrated Mass with him at Guanajuato's Bicentennial Park on March 25 which is near an historic shrine to Christ the King.

Referring to Christ the King, he reminded that “His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power that wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness.”

God's power, he said, “is the power of goodness, the power of love”.

“This is his sovereignty which no one can take from him and which no one should forget,” the Pope stressed, asking that Christ would “reign in our hearts, making them pure, docile, filled with hope and courageous in humility.”

God alone, he said, can save humanity. “We must have recourse to the one who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same (life) through his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Later that day, at an evening prayer service at the cathedral in León, Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Latin American and Carribean bishops to plant the “seed of hope” through the Church's work in the regions.

“Certainly your dioceses face a number of challenges and difficulties at the present moment,” the Pope acknowledged. “Yet, in the sure knowledge that the Lord is risen, we are able to move forward confidently, in the conviction that evil does not have the last word in human history, and that God is able to open up new horizons to a hope that does not disappoint.”

He added: “You are not alone amid your trials or in your successes in the work of evangelization,” and reminded that “all of us are one in sufferings and in consolation.”

“Know that you can count on a special place in the prayers of the one who has received from Christ the charge of confirming his brethren in faith,” the Pope said, referring to his role as the Successor of St. Peter.

“He now encourages you in your mission of making our Lord Jesus Christ ever better known, loved and followed in these lands, and he urges you not to let yourselves be intimidated by obstacles along the way.”

As the Pope prepared to leave Mexico for the second leg of his journey which will take him to Cuba, Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope's visit to Mexico had accomplished what the Holy Father wanted to achieve - "a personal encounter between the Holy Father and the Mexican people.”

The Pope arrived in Santiago, Cuba today for a three day visit that many hope will fuel a move for political change in the communist-run nation much like it did in 1998 when Pope John Paul II made an historic five-day visit that brought about lasting change.

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