By John AllenFebruary 17, 2016
EL PASO — Pope Francis’ Feb. 12-17 swing through Mexico reaches a crescendo on Wednesday in Ciudad Juárez, just across the US border from El Paso. So far history’s first Latin American pontiff has been a sensation, drawing rapturous crowds and saturation media coverage.
In the United States, Wednesday’s border stop is likely to be viewed through the prism of the politics of 2016 and debates over immigration reform, but Mexicans value the gesture for another reason, too: Ciudad Juárez is also associated with their country’s epidemic of gang- and drug-related violence.
In 2010 and 2011, homicidal mayhem drove an estimated 100,000 people across the border into El Paso and neighboring Las Cruces, New Mexico, many of whom remain out of fear. For those folks, Francis is coming not merely as a champion of migrants, but also, as he put it in advance, an “instrument of peace.”
Mexico is a pivotal Catholic country, the second-largest by population in the world, and clearly Francis thought carefully about where he wanted to go, what he wanted to say, and how he wanted to say it.
Here’s one sign: The normal free-wheeling and extemporaneous Francis has stuck fairly closely to his scripts, a sign of his personal commitment to crafting them.
In some ways, this is the biggest papal initiative of early 2016, and so it’s worth taking stock of what we’ve learned. As the Mexico trip nears its end, here are three thoughts about its big-picture significance.”