Pope Francis Monday condemned the oppression and exclusion of indigenous peoples and the plundering of their natural resources in a mass held before 100,000 people in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

"How sad this is!" he exclaimed. "How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our consciences and learn to say, 'forgive me!' 'Forgive me, brothers and sisters!' The world of today, ravaged as it is by a throw-away culture, needs you."

Framed by the mountains of the Chiapas highlands, the Argentine pontiff celebrated the open-air mass in the town of San Cristobal de las Casas before throngs of mixed-race and indigenous people from Mexico and Guatemala, many dressed in traditional costumes.

It was in this region, Mexico's indigenous heart, that the guerrillas of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) took up arms in 1994 under the leadership of the man known as Subcomandante Marcos. The guerrillas' stated goal was to demand justice and better living conditions for indigenous people.

"On many occasions, in a systematic and organized way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society," Francis said in his homily.

"Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them," he said.

"This is the law which the people of Israel received from the hand of Moses," he said. "A people who experienced slavery and the Pharoah's tyranny, who endured suffering and oppression to the point where God said - 'enough!' No more!"

The pontiff spoke phrases in Tzotzil and other indigenous languages in the ceremony, and also cited the Popol Vuh, the sacred text of the indigenous Maya people.

He used the occasion to underscore his message of respect for the environment as well.

"Your peoples, as the bishops of Latin America have recognized, know how to interact harmoniously with nature," Francis said.

He exhorted the church and society to no longer "remain silent before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history."

After a joyous reception by indigenous people from Mexico and neighbouring Guatemala, Francis made a brief stop at the tomb of Mexican bishop Samuel Ruiz (1924-2011), known as a defender of indigenous rights.

The pontiff then traveled on to the Chiapas state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, for an address on the importance of family to another enormous crowd.

More than 100,000 people gathered in the Victor Manuel Reyna sport stadium to hear the pontiff and testimony from a wide range of Catholic families, including a single mother, a couple who divorced and then remarried, and a couple in which the previously divorced wife had children from her earlier marriage.

The pontiff advised the faithful to keep the peace in families, even "when plates fly."

"They tell me that couples shouldn't fight, but I don't believe that. It is advisable that some day they should argue. And it's OK if a plate or two flies. What's important is to not end the day without making peace," the pontiff said.

The visit to Chiapas took place halfway through a six-day journey to Mexico, on which Francis is also scheduled to meet with labour unions and prisoners and celebrate mass across the US-Mexico border in solidarity with immigrants.

On Tuesday, the pontiff will travel to Morelia in the state of Michoacan for a meeting with youth.

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