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Pope Francis Wraps Up Mexico Trip In Juarez, Near U.S. Border


Migrants on this continent were the focus of Pope Francis's trip to Mexico this week, a visit he ended pointedly at the U.S. border. Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe of member station KJZZ was there.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Francisco, hermano, ya eres mexicano.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Brother Francis, you are also Mexican. That's what thousands chanted as they streamed toward the old fairgrounds of Ciudad Juarez. Many passed in front of a small restaurant owned for 30 years by this Javier Briones.

JAVIER BRIONES: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "I'm one of the survivors," he says. "Many of my fellow merchants who didn't pay extortion fees to the drug cartels didn't live to see this day. I'm proud Francis chose to come to Juarez."


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

URIBE: Everything about Pope Francis's final stop in Mexico was staged for powerful symbolic effect. He ascended a ramp at the U.S.-Mexico border to offer a blessing to a small crowd of migrants watching from the other side. He celebrated his outdoor mass before a granite altar, handmade by a migrant who'd learned his craft in the United States and was later deported. In his homily, the pope called immigration a tragedy that shouldn't be measured by statistics.


POPE POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "Instead," Francis said, "we should acknowledge migrants by their names and individual stories."

Earlier in the day, he spoke to the business community about treating workers fairly. The foreign factory, or maquila, industry has been the backbone of the Juarez economy for half a century.

POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "God will hold accountable the slave owners of our day," Francis said.

For Patricia Perez, the pope's message felt personal. She was a factory worker herself and left Juarez when she was just 15.

PATRICIA PEREZ: That's why we left - because there was no future. I used to work for a maquila, and I remember not having enough money to eat.

URIBE: Perez is now a U.S. citizen who lives in California. She felt drawn back to her hometown to see Pope Francis.

PEREZ: And I'm very hopeful the people listen to what he had to say. It's never too late to hope for a better future.

URIBE: The pope's visit helped unite Juarez with El Paso, its sister city just across the border. Thousands of El Pasoans watched the pope's mass from a university stadium. Others went to see Pope Francis in person, crossing back for the first time in years.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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