Pope Francis’ visit to Ciudad Juárez a symbol of progress for border residents

A mountain in Ciudad Juarez bears the evangelical message: “The Bible is the truth: Read it.”
(Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

A car drives past a billboard advertising Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Ciudad Juarez on Jan. 29, 2016.
(Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

The stage for Pope Francis’ public mass in Ciudad Juarez is but a mere skeleton of its future incarnation. (Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

Construction workers dig trenches for tubing at the site of Pope Francis’ public mass in Ciudad Juarez. They hope to finish by Feb. 17 — the day of the mass. (Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

People gather inside a small tent in downtown Juarez, set up to anticipate Pope Francis’ visit, on Jan. 29, 2016.
(Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

A woman inside the tent writes a message in a book to be presented as a gift to Pope Francis.
(Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

Beatriz Caballero (right) adjusts the “penacho” of her daughter, Annasophia Marquez. They dance as part of the Danza Guadalupana San Marcos. (Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

The “penacho” of Annasophia Marquez features a design of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The “matachines” will perform a dance during the Sun Bowl event on Feb. 17. (Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

A cashier in The Madonna Shop in El Paso, Texas helps a customer buying Pope Francis merchandise on Jan. 30, 2016. (Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, MEXICO — The stage for Pope Francis’ highly anticipated public mass along the U.S.-Mexico border is just a skeleton of its future incarnation. But in a few days Francis will use it to address tens of thousands of people with a long-awaited message: Ciudad Juárez is back.

Francis historic visit starts Friday in Mexico City, beginning a six-day pilgrimage that ends in Juárez on Feb. 17. The daylong stop is planned as a symbol of progress for a city rebuilding itself from a wounded past, the result of drug-related violence that left more than 10,000 dead between 2008 and 2012.

“The Mexico of violence, the Mexico of corruption, the Mexico of drug trafficking, the Mexico of cartels, that isn’t the one our mother wants,” Francis said Wednesday in a

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Francis’ visit will likely have ripple effects through the Southwest region, where his expected message of cross-border solidarity and respect for migrants will reverberate in states like Arizona at a time when immigration is a hot-button topic in the presidential race.

Even Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “a devout Catholic” who recently endorsed Donald Trump’s campaign, said he’d like to speak with Francis in Juárez.

“It’s very nice that he’s coming to Mexico, which is rather controversial when you deal with drugs, corruption and illegal immigration,” Arpaio said. “He’s coming right there, and I have to give him a lot of credit for that. Maybe something good will come out of his visit. That’s what we’re all hoping for.”

A changed city awaits

Construction crews in Juárez work round the clock, seven days a week to build the open arena just in time for mass.

Miguel Angel Lopez, 51, is a construction worker at the mass site. He has lived in Juárez for 30 years and remembers a time not long ago when it was much harder to find employment.

“When the violence was terrible, many of us could not find work,” Lopez said. “There are still murders here, but not like before.”

Lopez is not Catholic, but part of the