TRUJILLO, Peru (CNS) -- Encouraging the people of one of
Peru's most battered cities, Pope Francis said the Gospel message can give
Christians strength and hope to navigate amid life's storms.
Celebrating Mass Jan. 20 in the northern coastal city of
Trujillo, Pope Francis said he knew the tragic consequences the people have
suffered because of an unusual weather pattern that meteorologists dubbed a
"coastal El Nino."
"Like the apostles, you know the power of nature, you
have experienced its force," the pope said in his homily at the Mass on Huanchaco
beach. "Just as the apostles faced the storm on the sea, you had to face
the brunt of the coastal El Nino, whose painful consequences are still present
in so many families, especially those who are not yet able to rebuild their
In early 2017, Trujillo suffered torrential rains that
triggered a series of landslides from the Andean foothills to the east, sending
water and mud cascading into the city.
The areas most affected were poor neighborhoods, especially
Buenos Aires, the neighborhood the pope was to tour in his popemobile after the
The Peruvian regions of Piura, Lambayeque and La Libertad,
whose capital is Trujillo, were all hit. At least 100 people died, more than
140,000 lost their homes and nearly 1 million suffered property damage. Total
damage estimates range from $3 billion to more than $6 billion.
However, Pope Francis said he also was aware of the "other
storms" that "can hit these coasts with devastating effects on the
lives of the children of these lands" and test the spirit of Trujillo's
"Among these are organized violence, like 'contract
killings,' and the insecurity that they breed. Or the lack of educational and
employment opportunities, especially among young people, which prevents them
from building a future with dignity. Or the lack of secure housing for so many
families forced to live in highly unstable areas without safe access," the
According to local government statistics, Trujillo is the
second most violent city in Peru after Lima, with 2,435 people murdered in 2016
due to gang-related contract killings.
The city has seen an increasing rate of organized crime, with
extortion being a common practice in the construction and transportation
industries. Peru is one of the world's top cocaine producers and Trujillo, like
other port cities, it suffers from drug-related crime because much of the
cocaine is shipped out by sea.
The organized crime gangs have hired minors as assassins
because they assume the youngsters will get lighter sentences if caught -- and
because they are considered expendable.
Yet the pope assured the people that Jesus "knows our
pain and our trials" and wants to "be close to us in every painful
situation to give us a hand and help lift us up."
"These times of being 'buffeted' call into question and
challenge our strength of spirit and our deepest convictions," he said.
"They make us realize how important it is to stand united, not alone, and
to be filled with that unity which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit."
Pope Francis encouraged the people of Trujillo to remain
close to Jesus and rely on the Holy Spirit, "who keeps us united so that
we can support one another and take a stand against whatever would take away
all that is best in our families."
"Fill your lives always with the Gospel," the pope
said. "With Jesus, the soul of this town of Trujillo can continue to be
called 'the city of eternal spring,' because with him, everything is an opportunity