Pope Francis to visit Mexico City and three states in 2016

Pope Francis will visit the Mexican capital and three states early next year, Mexico’s foreign relations secretary announced Wednesday.

Claudia Ruiz Massieu said Pope Francis will visit Mexico City, Chiapas, Chihuahua and Michoacan, the latter three locales that present opportunities for the pontiff to touch on issues he has emphasized, such as poverty, migration and support for indigenous communities.

Chiapas, on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, is one of Mexico’s poorest states, heavily indigenous and a key migratory corridor for Central Americans traveling north to the United States. It has also seen rising rates of conversions to evangelical churches in recent years.

Chihuahua, in the north, also sees many thousands of people passing through each year trying to cross the border into Texas. Francis, who visited the United States in September, has said he would have liked to have entered the country from Mexico as a gesture of solidarity with migrants, but was unable to fit it into his schedule.

Michoacan, in southwestern Mexico, is a conservative state that historically has had a high percentage of Catholic residents. In recent years it has also been a flashpoint for severe drug cartel violence.

Ruiz Massieu said Francis’ trip will take place in the first months of 2016 and that specifics of his itinerary would be released by the Vatican next month.

Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera said recently that the pope would arrive Feb. 12, but that date has not been confirmed by the Vatican.

Mexico is home to more Roman Catholics than any other Spanish-speaking country. Benedict XVI was the last pope to visit, in 2012.

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