papa franjo.jpg
Photograph: EPA/GIUSEPPE LAMI

Pope Francis landed in the Mexican capital late Friday for his first visit to the predominantly Catholic country.

To the sound of mariachi musicians, the pontiff was met at the airport by President Enrique Pena Nieto and his wife Angelica Rivera, accompanied by several officials, and traditional dancers.

Children in traditional costume presented the pope with a casket containing earth from the country's 32 states, which he blessed.

In a now familiar breach of protocol, Francis left the red carpet to greet and bless a children's choir and other singers gathered to welcome him, and briefly donned a broad-brimmed black mariachi hat.

He also approached stands where around 5,000 members of the public cheered him.

After 30 minutes of greetings, including more official ones with bishops and government representatives, he left the airport in an open popemobile under heavy police guard, while thousands of people lined the route to the city.

"Francis, brother, you are Mexican," many chanted, while others waved banners saying "the whole world loves you," or "you are a missionary."

The pope was scheduled to hold his first Mexican mass Saturday in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in northern Mexico City, before receiving the keys to the city in a ceremony later in the day.

His tour was to last until Wednesday, and to take in six cities in four states. The pope has spoken out against the high rates of crime and poverty in the country.

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