SILAO, Mexico -- Pope Benedict XVI urged Mexicans to wield their faith against drug violence, poverty and other ills, celebrating Sunday Mass before a sea of hushed worshippers beneath a blazing sun in the highlight of his visit to Mexico.

Many in the crowd said they were gratified by Benedict's recognition of their country's problems and said they felt reinvigorated in what they described as a daily struggle against criminality, corruption and economic hardship.

Benedict delivered the message to an estimated 350,000 people in the shadow of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Christianity, which recalls the 1920s Roman Catholic uprising against the anticlerical laws that forbade public worship services such as the one Benedict celebrated.

The 84-year-old pope flew over the monument in a Mexican military helicopter en route to the Mass at Bicentennial Park, where he rode in the popemobile through the enthusiastic crowd.

Often seen as austere and reserved, Benedict charmed the cheering crowd by donning a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero that he wore on his way to Mass. In his homily, Benedict encouraged Mexicans to purify their hearts to confront the sufferings, difficulties and evils of daily life. It has been a common theme in his first visit to Mexico as pope: On Saturday he urged the young to be messengers of peace in a country that has witnessed the deaths of more than 47,000 people in the past five years in a drug war that has escalated during a government offensive against cartels.

"At this time when so many families are separated or forced to emigrate, when so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime, we come to Mary in search of consolation, strength and hope," Benedict said in a prayer at the end of Mass.

The reference to Mary is particularly important for Mexicans, who revere the Virgin of Guadalupe as their patron saint.

Also Sunday, the pope met with President Felipe Calderon in Guanajuato and discussed the need for a worldwide treaty on arms trafficking, a trade that has helped fuel Mexico's drug war. Benedict also met with relatives of victims of the drug-related violence.

With Bloomberg News

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