Pope Francis’s arrival at the Federico Gómez Pediatric Hospital in Mexico last week elicited strong emotional reactions from its young patients, some of whom rose from their wheelchairs to receive a hug from the faith leader.
During a politically contentious trip through Mexico, Pope Francis’s stop at the children’s hospital allowed him to engage more personally with the nation’s youngest citizens. After a short homily, the Pope gave each child a rosary. Vatican Radio reports that the Pope told the children, “I ask God to bless you, and to accompany you and your families, and all those people who work in this home and try to ensure that your smiles grow day by day.”
For Pope Francis, the visit was about more than one kind of healing. Although he also administered a polio vaccine to a child to help launch a campaign in favor of the vaccination, the Pope exhorted that “not only medicine but also ‘kindness therapy’ can make you live your time here with greater joy.”
The children responded to the Pope’s visit with kindness therapy of their own. One 15-year-old cancer patient, Alexia Garduño, serenaded the Pope with an a cappella version of Ave Maria. Another offered him a handmade Valentine’s day card.
Not everyone at the hospital embraced the Pope’s visit with the same enthusiasm. Hugo Lopez, a pediatric nurse at the Federico Gómez, told Religion News Service,
“Apart from giving the children hope, I see no benefit to Pope Francis coming here. He says that Mexican children are the ‘wealth of the country,’ but Mexican children are getting sicker…pollution is higher and we can’t afford to feed our kids as well as before.”
The majority of Pope Francis’s visit to Mexico focused on severe social and political issues facing Mexican communities. While in Michoacan, a state in western Mexico that has been the center of violent drug gang conflict, the Pope urged listeners to avoid the allure of drug money, despite rampant poverty.
“It is hard to feel the wealth of a nation when there are no opportunities for dignified work, no possibilities for study or advancement, when you feel your rights are being trampled on, which then leads you to extreme situations,” Pope Francis said.
Francis also traveled to Chiapas, a state that is home to Mayan ruins and whose largely indigenous population has a poverty rate of over 75 percent. During a ceremony in Chiapa’s San Cristóbal de las Casas, he delivered a critique of the country’s “systematic and organized” exclusion of indigenous peoples.
“Some have considered your values, culture, and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money, and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them,” Pope Francis said. “How sad this is! How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!’ The world, ravaged as it is by a throwaway culture, needs you!”
Crowds responded to the Pope’s homily with the chant, “Long live the Pope of the poor!”
In his five-day trip to Mexico, Pope Francis traveled via helicopter to five cities across the country.
—by Caroline Matas
Image Source: Pope Francis Journey to Mexico. Photo by Aleteia Image Department, Flickr Creative Commons.