Pope begins his first full day in Mexico

Tens of thousands of cheering Mexicans have gathered outside the residence where Pope Francis is staying to send him off on his first full day in Mexico: an official welcome at the presidential palace, a meeting with the country’s bishops and a Mass at the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Cheers went up as Francis pulled out in his popemobile and abruptly stopped to greet elderly, sick and disabled people who had gathered outside the residence of the Vatican nuncio. He handed out rosaries to faithful in wheelchairs and embraced a young boy wearing a surgical mask.

Thousands more Mexicans are lining his motorcade route and history’s first Latin American pope is basking in the welcome from the largest Spanish-speaking Catholic country in the world.

Under a brilliant sun and morning chill, Francis was welcomed at the palace Saturday by President Enrique Pena Nieto and his wife. Military bands played the Mexican and Holy See anthems as Francis stood solemnly.

Francis’ first order of business is a private meeting with Pena followed by a speech to the country’s political leadership, where he’s expected to address the drug violence and corruption tormenting Mexico. He then moves to the city cathedral for a hard-hitting address on how the Catholic Church should help Mexicans cope with the many social ills afflicting the country. He ends his day in what he has said would be his “most intimate desire”: praying before the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Photo: Pope Francis (C) wears a sombrero hat as he meets Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto (R) and first lady Angelica Rivera after his arrival in Mexico City, February 12, 2016. Picture taken on February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano Handout via Reuters

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