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Saturday, January 23, 1999 Published at 20:06 GMT

World: Americas

Pope slams death penalty

Pope John Paul II sits under an icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Pope John Paul II has criticised a litany of modern evils in the Americas, from the death penalty to racial discrimination, in the first Mass of his fourth trip to Mexico.

"No more violence, terrorism and drug trafficking," the Pope said , speaking in English to about 10,000 Roman Catholics crammed into the Basilica of Guadalupe.

[ image: The Pope gave communion to the local faithful]
The Pope gave communion to the local faithful
"No more torture or other forms of abuse. There must be an end to the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty," the Pope said.

He condemned "exploitation of the weak, racial discrimination and ghettos of poverty."

He also expressed concern over the foreign debt that burdens many Latin American countries, the environmental devastation that affects much of the hemisphere and discrimination against indigenous people and African Americans.

The Pope's message is likely to be well received by human rights activists who single out Mexico for routinely torturing criminal suspects to extract confessions and criticise the United States over its use of the death penalty.

Pope prays on elevator

Thousands of worshippers braved the cold at Mexico's most sacred site, where a dark-skinned Virgin is said to have appeared miraculously to an Aztec peasant 468 years ago.

[ image: The Popemobile arriving in front of the Basilica]
The Popemobile arriving in front of the Basilica
An elevator has been installed in the Basilica to allow the Pope to pray before a statue of the Virgin.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, who helped convert the Aztecs to Christianity during the Spanish conquest, now adorns everything in Mexico from taxi cabs to mountain-top shrines.

"Ninety percent of Mexicans are Catholics because of the appearance of the Virgin," said Filiberto Diaz Nava, a priest from the Virgin of Guadalupe parish.

The Pope declared 12 December as Virgin Mary of Guadalupe Day, an annual religious holiday for the Americas.

After the Pope delivered his address, a number of indigenous Indians, dressed in traditional colours, gave addresses in their native languages.

The trip is his fourth to Mexico City, home to 18 million Roman Catholic people, and his last to the Americas before the third millennium.

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