When Pope Francis arrives in Mexico on Friday he will be landing in a country of contrasts.
On one hand, Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America with a booming tourism industry and vibrant arts scene. On the other hand, just days ago a prison riot between warring drug gangs left 49 people dead and is a testament to the country’s long-running battle with drug traffickers.
Pope Francis is expected to address Mexico’s drug violence during his six-day tour through the Latin American nation, where he will visit areas that have had or continue to be plagued by the ongoing conflict.
“The Mexico of violence, the Mexico of corruption, the Mexico of drug trafficking, the Mexico of cartels, is not the Mexico our Mother [Mary] wants,” Francis said in a video released last week by the Vatican.
Speaking later to the Mexican news service, Notimex, he added that while he believes peace can be achieved in the country, it will take work.
"Violence, corruption, war, children who cannot go to school because of their countries at war, trafficking, arms manufacturers who sell weapons so that the wars in the world can continue," he said. "More or less this is the climate in which we are living in the world today."
He added, “Peace is born from tenderness. Peace is born from understanding. Peace is born or made with dialogue, not in rupture.”
The pontiff’s message, however, does not mean that he will directly confront Mexico's drug cartels.
In 2014, when Pope Francis travelled to southern Italy, he excommunicated members of the Italian Mafia, which set off fears that some mobster might want to assassinate him.
Some observers believe he may use the same tactic in Mexico. Francis is scheduled to travel to the border city of Ciudad Juárez, which in the past was a major battle zone between drug cartels and had one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Mexico’s clergy has a mixed record when it comes to confronting the drug violence in the country, with some being on the frontlines while others – especially some high up in the hierarchy – are less than willing to speak out.
Priests, however, have become a frequent target of drug-related violence on Mexico, with a new report finding that 52 priests have been killed since 1990. Of those killings, 40 took place in the last ten years – the period in which Mexico has ramped up its assault on the country’s drug cartels. The majority of those killing occurred under the presidency of Felipe Calderón, but 15 priests have been murdered under current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto
The number of priests kidnapped or tortured has increased as well – jumping 100 percent during the first three years of Peña Nieto's term compared to the same time period under Calderón.
In November 2015, Father Erasto Pliego de Jesús was kidnapped in Nopalucán, Puebla. His body was discovered days later on the side of the road, showing evidence of torture.