papa franjo.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

Pope Francis on Wednesday will visit the Mexican city once considered the most violent in the world: Ciudad Juarez on the Mexico-US border.

The city is the pontiff's final stop on a five-day visit to Mexico, and a place laden with symbolism for the country and its struggles.

Positioned across the Rio Grande from the US city of El Paso in Texas, Juarez has long been a focus for northward migration, as well as those deported from the United States. More than 6,000 migrants died on the US-Mexico border between 1998 and 2014, according the International Organization for Migration.

The city suffers from devastating violence as well. Since the 1990s, hundreds of women and girls have mysteriously disappeared in the city. Many later turned up dead.

From 2008-10, during a deadly power struggle between competing organized crime groups, Juarez was ranked as the world's most violent city. The crime wave has since receded somewhat.

The pope will meet 700 inmates and their families at the Cereso prison, the site of a 2011 revolt that left 17 dead. He is expected to pray with the inmates before meeting workers and business leaders, and eating lunch with seminarians and priests.

The highlight of the visit will be a cross-border mass to be held just 80 metres from the river separating the US and Mexico.

The pope is expected to lay flowers at the border and pray in remembrance of migrants who have died on both sides.

As many as 210,000 people are expected to gather for the mass on the Mexican side, including many expected to cross from the US for the occasion. Additionally, as many as 50,000 people will pack the Sun Bowl stadium in El Paso for a remote viewing of the mass.

Since his arrival in Mexico Friday, Francis has criss-crossed the country to sharply criticize the political class, civil society and even the Catholic Church for their perceived inequality, indifference and injustice.

But the Argentine pope has also drawn criticism for not holding an audience with families of victims of violence, including the 43 students who disappeared in southern Mexico a year and a half ago. Some victims and families will be present at the border mass, but will not meet with the pontiff privately.

Instead, mothers of Juarez's disappeared women and girls have painted black crosses on pink backgrounds with the words "not one more" and "more justice" on posts along Francis' expected route.

There will be a farewell ceremony for Pope Francis after the mass. Afterward he is scheduled to depart Ciudad Juarez airport for Rome at 7:15 pm (23:15 GMT). 

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