Pope celebrates Mass at Mexico's most sacred shrine

Pope John Paul II prays the Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City  
January 23, 1999
Web posted at: 2:27 p.m. EST (1927 GMT)

MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II railed against a global culture of violence, terrorism and abuse as he celebrated Mass before about 10,000 people Saturday at Mexico's Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of Roman Catholicism's most important shrines.

"The church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death," he said during his homily.

His talk complemented a major document released Saturday, in which the pope decried exploitative capitalism. He also called upon pastors to reach out to society's elite -- not just the poor. And pressed the church to battle "social sins which cry to heaven," such as drug trafficking and corruption.

The pope said the document should help the church "be the seed of unity and not the cause of division of humanity."

"May the continent of hope also be the continent of life!" the pope said in a sharp, direct appeal in English during a Mass celebrated in the major languages of the continent. He was interrupted by applause a half-dozen times.

Pope signs document
The pope signs a declaration designed to unify church policy and reiterate his positions on abortion and other issues  

Pope declares new feast day

Also Saturday, the pope declared December 12 as Virgin Mary of Guadalupe Day, an annual religious holiday for the Americas.

More than 20 million people make the pilgrimage annually to the shrine where tradition says a dark-skinned Virgin Mother appeared to a peasant, sparking the widespread conversion of Mexico's native population to Christianity.

The 78-year-old pontiff arrived Friday in Mexico, his fourth visit to the site of his first official papal trip 20 years ago. He was greeted by millions while city bells pealed a welcome.

The story then spread throughout Latin America, where the Virgin is also venerated.

"It is for me the cause of enormous joy to find myself again in this blessed land, where Saint Mary of Guadalupe is venerated as the beloved Mother," the pope said after his arrival.

According to legend, the Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill, where the basilica now stands. She is said to have shown herself to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant, leaving her image on his cloak.

Highlights of Pope John Paul II's North American visit:
Saturday. Mass at Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe; meeting with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo
Sunday. Mass at race track before an expected 800,000 people
Monday. Speech at Azteca Stadium
Tuesday. Departs Mexico; arrives in St. Louis; meets with U.S. President Bill Clinton; speaks at youth rally
Wednesday. Mass at Trans World Dome/Cervantes Convention Center; evening prayer at Cathedral Basilica; departs for Rome

From The Associated Press

"From that moment on, the evangelization of Mexico's Indians really began," said Hector Fernandez, a spokesman from the archbishop's office. "Their encounter with the cloak of the Virgin made conversions and the work of the missionaries very easy."

The story then spread throughout Latin America, where the Virgin is also venerated.

The pontiff is to celebrate another Mass Sunday before an expected crowd of 800,000 at a Mexican racetrack.

He will conclude his visit to Mexico on Tuesday and fly to St. Louis, where he will meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton, address a youth rally and celebrate an indoor Mass.

John Paul is expected to leave for Rome Wednesday.

Correspondent Lucia Newman, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.