CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- During a visit to the U.S.-Mexican border, Pope Francis called forced migration a global "human tragedy" as he celebrated mass in Ciudad Juarez -- once considered the most violent city in Mexico.
Francis climbed a ramp overlooking the Rio Grande separating Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. He laid flowers and prayed Wednesday at a memorial cross erected in memory of migrants who died trying to cross into the United States.
He prayed for compassion toward migrants during the open-air mass.
"We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people," the pontiff told an audience of between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
"Here in Ciudad Juárez, as in other border areas, there are thousands of immigrants from Central American and other countries, not forgetting the many Mexicans who also seek to pass over 'to the other side,'" Francis continued. "Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human beings."
On the U.S. side, tens of thousands of people watched Francis deliver his message on a massive television. Earlier Wednesday, he visited a jail in Ciudad Juarez that houses about 700 inmates, 250 of which who are women.
Francis criticized the prison system for problems including overcrowding while praying with inmates, also ordering Roman Catholic leaders to go outside of their churches to join the people. One inmate offered Francis a handmade cross during his visit.
"The problem of security is not resolved only by incarcerating; rather, it calls us to intervene by confronting the structural and cultural causes of insecurity that impact the entire social framework," Francis told inmates.