Pope criticises Mexico's corrupt elite during mass

Sunday 14 February 2016 21.37
Pope Francis celebrates mass in Ecatepec, Mexico
Pope Francis celebrates mass in Ecatepec, Mexico

Celebrating mass in front of hundreds of thousands in one of Mexico's poorest and most dangerous cities, Pope Francis took a swipe at the country's rich and corrupt elite.

Decrying "a society of the few and for the few", he denounced deep inequality and the vanity and pride of those who consider themselves a cut above the rest.

"That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. This is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children," the pope said at the Mass in the city of Ecatepec.

Mexico is home to one of the world's richest men, billionaire Carlos Slim, and a wealthy political class stained by corruption even as much of the country is steeped in poverty and violence.

A gritty expanse of cinder block homes north of Mexico City, Ecatepec has seen a surge in crime in recent years as it became infested with warring drug cartels.

Fueled by a weak economy and youth unemployment, gang violence has driven the city's murder rate to one of Mexico's highest. It is notorious for the unsolved murders of scores of women.

It is also a home to a giant statue of 'Santa Muerte', or Saint Death, a cult figure followed by millions across the Americas. The saint is often depicted as a skeletal grim reaper draped in white satin robes, beaded necklaces and carrying a scythe, and is believed to grant requests without judging people.

A sea of Roman Catholic faithful greeted the pope as he flew into Ecatepec aboard a white helicopter, many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his image, chanting, cheering and waving flags. Local officials expected as many as two million people to turn out.

Across the country, more than 100,000 people have been killed in drug violence over the last decade and some 26,000 are missing.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has failed to significantly curb the bloodshed, with murders rising last year after falling early in his term.

Before becoming president, Mr Pena Nieto was governor of the State of Mexico that is home to Ecatepec. In the second half of his 2005-2011 term as governor, the murders of women doubled.

Corruption and incompetence are rampant in under-funded police forces across Mexico. The vast majority of murders are never solved and family members complain that authorities show little interest in the cases of the missing.

Unlike his predecessor Pope Benedict, who visited Mexico's conservative heartland in 2012, Francis is stopping in some of the country's most troubled corners on his first trip as pontiff.