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Pope's Juárez Mass a Blessing for Victims of Violence

Anita Cuéllar Figueroa is among the mothers of missing young women in Juárez who will be seated in front at the Pope's mass.

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Anita Cuéllar Figueroa's anguish is also her ticket to see Pope Francis on Wednesday. Figueroa's 16-year-old daughter went missing in July 2011, a painful reality that gives her priority to attend the pope's mass here.

Of the 20,000 people who will occupy seats in the first of four designated zones during the papal mass, the majority will be the families of victims of violence, mothers of missing girls, those who are impoverished, and members of Mexico’s indigenous community. The open-air mass will be held at a fairgrounds with a capacity of 220,000 people.

“Faith is the motor of my life, and if I didn’t have my faith I wouldn’t be able to live my life within these circumstances,” said Figueroa, who wore a button bearing a photo of her daughter on the lapel of her blazer.

In Juárez, everybody wants to secure a ticket to see the pope, but there are only so many tickets to go around. Outside the Catedral de Ciudad Juárez, parishioners rushed to turn in their raffle tickets in exchange for two tickets to see the pope. A lucky few walked away from the church with tickets in hand and stared with mixed looks of disbelief and delight.

But not all of the tickets are raffled, as is in the case of Cuéllar Figueroa, who bears one of 120 tickets allotted for mothers who have experienced that particular form of loss.

Her daughter, Jessica Ivonne Padilla Cuéllar, was a "family girl" and studious; she wanted to be a pediatrician.

Religion, said Cuéllar Figueroa, is what has kept her going for the sake of her other children and grandchildren, despite the tragic events surrounding her daughter.

“Just the fact that the pope was coming is a blessing for me,” she said. “Now that I got tickets, I feel doubly blessed.”

Luz del Carmen Flores, Irma Beatriz Gonzales Vargas and Anita Cuellar Figueroa hold images of their daughters, each of whom disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. (John Brecher / NBC News)John Brecher / NBC News

Priest Alejandro Martinez Gallegos, the coordinator of ticketing for the event, said that the bishop of Juárez and others within the church there developed a criterion to determine the best distribution of tickets.

“Our first criteria was to serve people that were more vulnerable, extremely impoverished, and people that were suffering the most,” Gallegos said, referring to the rash of violence that has occurred in Juárez in years past.

A total of 200,000 tickets to attend the pope’s mass have been distributed, and 125,000 of those have been apportioned to Juárez residents. Another 10,000 have been distributed to El Paso residents, and 5,000 tickets go to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The remaining 50,000 have been given to residents throughout Mexico, at large.

Katina Mona, a nun in charge of doling out tickets to the raffle winners outside the cathedral, said that some of the people who have received tickets have — quite literally — jumped for joy. “But some of the people who have not gotten them have gotten really angry and upset,” she said.

Other privileged people include 1,000 government officials, who will also occupy seats in the first zone, as well as members of the church — some 400 priests, 400 nuns, and 200 seminarians.

But this represents just a fraction of the number of people anticipated to be in Juárez on the day of the Pope’s arrival. City officials have estimated that an additional one million tourists will add to Juárez existing population of approximately 1.3 million people.

“Of course not everyone is going to be able to get a ticket,” Gallegos said, “But we’re asking people for their consideration.”

For Cuéllar Figueroa, it is very special that the pope is coming to Juárez, but it really means a lot that she will be at the actual event.

“It’s also important to be at that mass because it’s a collective prayer," she said. "There are so many people praying together at the same time.”

Cuéllar Figueroa said the most important lesson the pope is teaching them forgiveness. And despite the anguish over her daughter's disappearance, Juárez, she says, is still her family's home.

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