The Vatican has officially announced that Pope Francis will be visiting Mexico in February 2016, where he will spend time in six cities in only five days and will celebrate a highly symbolic public Mass on the southern side of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.
The pontiff will visit the country Feb. 12-18, spending each night in the central capital of Mexico City but crisscrossing the nation via airplane or helicopter each day to visit points further south, west, and north. He will end his trip in Ciudad Juarez, the border city on the other side of El Paso, Texas.
The last public event of the trip will see Francis celebrate Mass near the border fence. While the Vatican has yet to give details about that Mass, the U.S. Catholic fundraising organization Catholic Extension said in a release that the pope would visit the actual border.
Before his trip to the U.S. in September, the pontiff had said he had considered coming to that country through Mexico as a special sign of solidarity with immigrants but that details could not be worked out in time for that to occur.
Arriving in Mexico City the evening of Feb. 12, Francis is to meet with the country's president and political leaders the next day before celebrating a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He will fly via helicopter Feb. 14 to an area just north of the capital, where he will celebrate a public Mass and visit a children's hospital.
On Feb. 15, the pope is to fly via airplane and helicopter to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a city in the Mexican state of Chiapas that is an entry point for immigrants to the nation from Central American countries. On Feb. 16, he will fly to Morelia, a city some 200 miles west of the capital that has been racked by drug violence.
Francis is to leave Mexico from Ciudad Juarez the evening of Feb. 17, arriving back in Rome the next morning.
The Mexico trip will be the pontiff's twelfth outside Italy since his election in March 2013. He made his last trip to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic Nov. 25-30.
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]