A Supreme Court justice had just been found dead at an upscale West Texas ranch, but the news dominating this corner of the world last week consisted of two words: El Papa. The Pope.
The buzz percolating through coffee shops and churches here was Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico, including to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso.
The rhapsody the pontiff ignites in people — religious or otherwise — has been a marvel to watch. I followed the pope in November as he traveled through Cuba, from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. The crowds there were predictably enthusiastic. Cuba is a historically Catholic country that had its religion stifled by its communist leaders but reanimated in recent years.
Cubans, thirsty for a spiritual leader, drew to him in hordes, hoping for some guidance through the morass of economic stagnation and Soviet-era restrictions they’re stuck in. Francis counseled compassion and banding together through tough times.
In Mexico, his words were even more pointed, lashing out against government corruption and the drug trade — twin evils that have devastated the country the past decade. On Thursday, the pope waded into the murky waters of the U.S. presidential campaign when, on the return flight to the Vatican, he chastised GOP front-runner Donald Trump for his views on undocumented immigrants and building a wall between Mexico and the U.S.
“This man is a not a Christian, if he has said things like that,” he told reporters.
Along border towns on each side of the Rio Grande, which have lived in symbiotic relations with each other for generations, the pope’s visit was watched with the rapture of a lunar landing. Local TV news stations carried every step of his visit live, in English and Spanish.