Francis: Pastor... and Head of State
What would a visit by the Bishop of Rome be like
if he only went as a pastor and no longer a Head of State
because that role had been handed over to a layperson?
Pastoral gestures mixed with politically correct expressions
by a foreign Head of State during Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico.
All his messages, marked by this double function,
now remain for reflection and discernment.
José Rubén Alonso González
The media and political show set up for Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico has ended. Now, his pointed, provocative, vindicating, inspiring and sometimes generalized messages remain for assimilation and discernment. The Bishop of Rome and Head of the Vatican State was in Mexico for five whole days and nights, from the night of Friday, February 12, to the night of Wednesday, February 17. He visited not only the capital but also Ecatepec in the state of Mexico; San Cristóbal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutiérrez, state of Chiapas; Morelia, state of Michoacán; and Ciudad Juárez, state of Chihuahua.
It was a pastoral visit and also that of a Head of State, a binomial that on a world scale is only granted to the pope. That’s why the forms, signs and words are intertwined and the borders are blurry, with one influencing, contaminating and limiting the other, especially in a nation-State with a liberal secular tradition that began during the mid-19th century. Since then it has traversed mutual annulment, suspicions, persecutions, confrontations, bloodshed and 62 years of under-the-table negotiations through a “modus vivendi” agreed upon after the religious conflict of 1926-1929 that only ended in 1991 when the legal existence of the churches was recognized and diplomatic relationships were reestablished between Mexico and the Vatican.
The “disappeared” disappeared
Pope Francis came to a country with open wounds, with people who were expecting a calling out of the facts and a naming of those responsible, so those wounds could heal. This was expected by the parents of the 43 young people from the Rural Teachers School of Ayotzinapa, allegedly “disappeared” by the State security forces the night of September 26, 2014, who have become emblematic of the 27,659 others “disappeared” in Mexico between 2007 and the end of 2015, a figure even acknowledged by the federal government.
Pope Francis didn’t once use the word “disappeared” in any of his 15 speeches and homilies and only twice did he mention “kidnappings,” once in his speech to President Enrique Peña Nieto, politicians and businessmen in the National Palace during the official reception. “Experience teaches us,” he said then, “that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, the life of society sooner or later becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development.”
“Mexico doesn’t deserve
a drama like this one”
The other time was during the homily in the Mass in Ciudad Juárez before leaving, when referring to migration: “Here in Ciudad Juárez, as in other border areas, there are thousands of immigrants from Central America and other countries, not forgetting the many Mexicans who also seek to pass over ‘to the other side.’ Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human beings.”
Once on the plane heading back to the Vatican, the Mexican press asked the Pope directly why he didn’t meet with the families of the missing teaching students. This was his answer: “If you read the messages attentively, I made reference continuously to the killings, the death, the life taken by all of these narco-trafficking gangs and human smugglers. I spoke of this problem as one of the wounds that Mexico suffers. There was an attempt to receive one of these groups, and there were many groups, even opposed among themselves, with infighting, so I preferred to say that I would see all of them at the Mass in Juárez or at another [Mass]. It was practically impossible to meet all of these groups, which on the other hand were also fighting among themselves. It’s a situation that’s difficult to understand, especially for me because I’m a foreigner, right? I think that even the Mexican society is a victim of all of this, of these crimes of “cleansing” people, discarding people. I spoke about it in four speeches even and you can check for it there. It’s a great pain that I’m taking, because this nation doesn’t deserve a drama like this one.”
A pact of words?
The parents of the student teachers were among those who had sought a private encounter with the pope through the Society of Jesus and some bishops ever since the visit was officially announced in November 2015. The most they received was an invitation for three relatives to sit in the front row during the Mass in Ciudad Juárez. Even though those particular parents denied being divided or in conflict themselves, Francis just repeated the official version. According to journalist Raymundo Riva Palacio in his February 17 column titled “The Pope’s chaperons” in the newspaper El Financiero, the federal government appointed a “commissioner” to be the pontiff’s shadow during any public movement and “for any information he may require.”
Humberto Roque Villanueva, religious affairs undersecretary of the Ministry of the Interior, who ran and was interlocutor for the Pope’s visit with the Mexican Episcopate and the Vatican, said days before Francis’ arrival in Mexico,: “As I see it from conversations we have had with the Catholic Church, the pope is going to refer to these cases in a general, not specific, way. I have the impression that the reflections will be general, applicable to Mexico of course but not as casuistic as some believe.”
Specifically regarding the teaching students’ parents, he revealed that “for a while it was thought they had negotiated to be received by him privately. As far as I have been informed, this is not going to happen. What will happen is that they will be present in some of Pope Francis’ liturgical events. What I don’t know is whether at that moment he will refer to them in particular.”
Was a pact made regarding the pope’s agenda and words on this issue? The day before Pope Francis ended his visit, the newspaper La Jornada commented with clear regret that “Francis had time to receive the leaders of Televisa and TV Azteca, but not even a second to comfort the parents of the 43.”
The pederast issue
The pedophilia victims of Marcial Maciel, born in Cotija, Michoacán, and founder of the Legion of Christ, went through a similar situation. They weren’t received and the issue of pederasty didn’t merit a single word. Much less was anything directly said about Maciel’s beneficiary, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, metropolitan archbishop of Mexico, who’s been accused of having covered up for other pederast priests such as Nicolás Aguilar, as Bernardo Barranco reminded readers in his February 24 column in La Jornada, which he titled, “Norberto Rivera must resign.”
Pope Francis was more explicit about the issue on the way back to Rome during an in-flight interview with Javier Solorzano from the National Polytechnic Institute’s Channel 11: “The case of Father Maciel left a strong mark, especially on the victims. The victims continue to feel unprotected by the Church. Many continue to be men of faith. Some are still even in the priesthood. I want to ask you, what do you think of this subject? Did you at any moment consider meeting with the victims? And, in general, this idea that when priests are detected in cases of this nature, what is done is that they are moved to another parish, nothing more?”
Answering his own question the pope was neither vague nor evasive: “A bishop who moves a priest to a different parish if he detects a case of pedophilia is without conscience and the best thing for him to do would be to resign. Is that clear? Secondly, I would like to return to the Maciel case. Here I would like to render homage to a man who battled in a moment in which he did not have the strength to impose himself, to the point of being able to do so: Cardinal Ratzinger (applause), a man who had all the documentation. When he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he had all the documentation in his hands, he carried out investigations and went on, went on, went on...but was not able to continue up to the end. But if you remember, ten days before St. John Paul II died, that Good Friday Via Crucis, he said to all the Church that it was necessary to clean up all the ‘filth’ in the Church. In the Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice —he was no fool, he knew he was a candidate—he did not try to conceal his position, he said exactly the same thing. He was the brave one who helped so many open this door. So, I want to remember him because sometimes we forget about these hidden works that were the foundation for “taking the lid off the pot.”
Later, Francis recalled what has been and is being done in the Vatican around the issue and specifically in the case of Maciel and the Legion of Christ: “With regard to Maciel, returning to the Congregation, action has been taken and now the governance of the Congregation is semi-commissioned, or rather the superior general is elected by the Council, by the General Chapter, but the vicar is chosen by the pope. Two general counselors are elected by the General Chapter and the other two are chosen by the pope, so we are able to help them review old accounts.”
Private meetings with
Jesuits and the jet set
During his stay in Mexico, Francis did dedicate some time to private meetings. At the end of his day on Sunday the 14th, after a multitudinous Mass in Ecatepec and a visit to the Federico Gómez Pediatric Hospital led by Angélica Rivera, President Peña Nieto’s wife, the pope met with six of his fellow Jesuits in Mexico’s Apostolic Nunciature. The Vatican’s spokesperson, Federico Lombardi, reported on this meeting during a press conference and the pope took the opportunity to record a message for the Society, “Keep working for the dignity of Jesus, who even on the Cross continued to work for those who crucified Him.”
Lombardi didn’t report on another private meeting held that same morning, before leaving for Ecatepec. Maxine Woodside, an entertainment journalist, was one of those “privileged” to be in this meeting, which had been requested by Antonio Brumen, artistic promoter linked to the Archdiocese of Mexico and the Legion of Christ, and the planner of John Paul II’s last two visits of to Mexico. He was seen sitting in the front row dressed as a clergyman during the canonization of 27 Mexican devout people, 24 of them martyrs of religious persecution in May of 2000.
Not one of the group Pope Francis met with that morning was from the “peripheries.” Five days after the pope’s departure, Woodside talked about it on her radio show: “I got to the Nunciature before seven in the morning. We were about a hundred people... I knew the Four Fantastics from Televisa: Bernardo Gómez with his wife, Emilio Azcárraga with his wife, his mother and his whole family, Pepe Bastón with Eva Longoria and Alfonso de Angoita with his whole family. He was the most important one because he’s the one with the money.” The rest were businessmen and their families, such as Daniel Servitje from the Bimbo Group; Carlos Slim, bankers and volunteers from the Anáhuac University, an institution that belongs to the Legion of Christ.
Invited as pastor and as Head of State
On April 12, 2013, a month after Francis
was elected pope, the Mexican episcopacy invited him to visit Mexico “whenever you consider it convenient.” The bishops back then told him that the visit would “bring solace, encouragement and the hope of faith, particularly to those who live in the peripheries.” And they proposed “the possibility that this pastoral visit be in a specifically poor diocese, so that the love of God will irradiate out from there to those who suffer any needs.”
Almost two years later, in January 2015, returning to Rome from Manila, after announcing his visit to the United States, the pope ruled out visiting Mexico that year: “To enter the USA from the border of Mexico would be a beautiful thing, as a sign of brotherhood and help for the immigrants,” he explained to reporters, “but you know that going to Mexico without going to visit the Madonna would be a drama. A war could break out! And also it would mean three more days, and this is not completely clear. Later there will be time to go to Mexico.”
In June of the previous year, a month after Mexico’s bishops had their ad límina visit to Rome and met with Francis, President Peña Nieto, during his first official visit to the Vatican, personally invited the pope to visit Mexico. While no date was set, both formal courtesies were done: the Mexican bishops invited the Pastor and the President invited the Head of State.
The pope’s visit to Mexico was set during the Bishops’ Synod on the Family in the Vatican, in October 2015. Francisco Robles Ortega, cardinal and archbishop of Guadalajara and president of the Episcopal Conference of Mexico, as well as Norberto Rivera Carrera, cardinal and archbishop primate of Mexico, were informed. Upon his return to Mexico, Rivera Carrera beat the episcopate and the Vatican to the punch on November 1 by announcing the pope’s visit to Mexico in February 2016. The pope himself announced it on December 12. And with that the fighting indeed broke out.
Some bishops expected
a pulling of ears
Arguments and complaints surfaced the second week of November, when the bishops were gathered in their Hundredth Plenary Assembly to renew or ratify the Presidential Council and the Permanent Triennial Council along with defining the Pastoral Plan. On one side were reproaches towards Eugenio Andrés Lira Rugarcía, auxiliary bishop of Puebla and general secretary of the Episcopate, and Norberto Rivera Carrera for stealing the show. What those two have in common is their closeness to economic, political and media power groups.
On the other side, some bishops warmed the rest that the pope’s visit would be a “pulling of ears,” recalling Francis’ meeting with the US bishops on September 23, 2015, in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. The Church had to offer the Mexican people something new. Finally, the bishops agreed to postpone the renewal of the Councils and the Pastoral Plan until April 2016, after the pope’s visit.
Regarding the preparations for the visit, they agreed on two points. Lira Rugarcía would lead the visit, establishing contacts with the government. And the Mexican dioceses would gather offerings to finance the expenses to avoid further meddling by the government. At the end of the visit it was only reported that the municipal and state governments the Pope visited had spent 165 million pesos (US$9.2 million) on preparations and infrastructure. The federal government’s expenses on security and transportation are unknown, as is the result of the offerings gathered in the dioceses.
Televisa received him
as if he were a star
Pope Francis arrived in Mexico in the evening. Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife, wearing an ivory-colored dress, received him at the steps of the plane. Behind them, slightly more than 500 people were in the stands. Between the plane and those invited was a group of artists and their children from Mexico’s Televisa, the largest mass multimedia company in the Spanish-speaking world, as well as the company’s mariachi band. Televisa had organized a reception spectacle, turning the pope into one more star on the “Channel of the Stars,” surrounding him with the entourage of the federal government’s expanded Cabinet. They even had the pope greet each one of them personally.
The next day he would have important events: a pope’s first time inside the National Palace; a meeting with the Mexican bishops and time with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in her basilica, which was the main reason for his stay in Mexico City.
In the “Zócalo” and
the National Palace
The reception in the Zócalo, the capital’s famous main square, where the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral converge, was cold and lackluster, with few people. The security controls imposed by the federal government as well as Archbishop Norberto Rivera’s “sit-down strike” against having been displaced from directing the visit yielded results. Rivera had inhibited the promotion of volunteers to act as barriers rather than police in the Zócalo, blocked the presence of the faithful around his Cathedral and discouraged economic contributions from businessmen.
In the National Palace itself, while Francis was direct about key issues in the country, he was careful to play his Head of State role with Mexico’s political and economic class, who poured out at the end to greet him, touch him and take pictures of him.
First of all referring to the youth, he said to those present that “a people with a youthful population is a people able to renew and transform itself; it is an invitation to look to the future with hope and, in turn, it challenges us in a positive way here and now.” He added that “a hope-filled future is forged in a present made up of men and women who are upright, honest, and capable of working for ‘the common good,’ which in this 21st century is not in such great demand.… Leaders of social, cultural and political life have the particular duty
to offer all citizens the opportunity to be worthy contributors to their own future… to help citizens have real access to the material and spiritual goods which are indispensable: adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment. This is not just a question of laws which need to be updated and improved—something always necessary—but rather a need for urgent formation of the personal responsibility of each individual, with full respect for others as men and women jointly responsible in promoting the advancement of the nation.”
Those who lead the country heard him... and at the end, as if it all had nothing to do with them, they applauded euphorically.
The longest speech was given to the bishops From there, after receiving the keys to the city, he went inside the Cathedral, accompanied by Norberto Rivera, where the Mexican bishops were waiting for him. Onésimo Cepeda, a businessman and bishop emeritus of Ecatepec, approached to greet him with his characteristic snooty smile. Rivera welcomed him to his cathedral and Francisco Robles welcomed him on behalf of the episcopacy.
The pope just thanked them with a hug. During all his trips, like his predecessors, the Bishop of Rome meets with the local bishops but in private, solo episcopi. The only public meetings and speeches have been those with the bishops of the United States and of Mexico.
Of the 15 speeches-messages and homilies Francis gave in Mexico, the one to the bishops was the broadest. And of all the words he spoke publicly in Mexico. 21.9% was to them.
“Do not fear transparency”
Francis left them with several tasks and challenges. He placed them before themselves, the Mexican people, the country, power and their own past. And while not calling it that, he presented, a complex program they would have to discern.
“I urge you to not fall into that paralyzation of standard responses to new questions,” “to overcome the temptation of aloofness and clericalism, of coldness and indifference, of triumphalism and self-centeredness.”
“Be bishops who have a pure vision, a transparent soul, and a joyful face,” he said to them. “Do not fear transparency. The Church does not need darkness to carry out her work. Be vigilant so that your vision will not be darkened by the gloomy mist of worldliness; do not allow yourselves to be corrupted by trivial materialism or by the seductive illusion of underhanded agreements.”
The ethical challenge
of the drug trade
“Do not place your faith in the ‘chariots and horses’ of today’s Pharaohs,” Francis said to the bishops. “Do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests. Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander…
“I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for the youth and for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church. The gravity of the violence which divides with its distorted expressions, do not allow us as Pastors of the Church to hide behind anodyne denunciations. Rather they demand of us a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships without which all of us would be defeated from the outset in the face of such an insidious threat.”
Francis asked the bishops to “show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures. Mexico needs its American-Indian roots so as not to remain an unresolved enigma. The indigenous people of Mexico still await true recognition of the richness of their contribution and the fruitfulness of their presence. In this way they can inherit that identity which transforms them into a single nation and not only one identity among other identities.”
“How unfortunate you are
if you rest on your laurels!”
“May your vision, always and solely resting upon Christ, be capable of contributing to the unity of the people in your care; of favoring the reconciliation of its differences and the integration of its diversities; of promoting a solution to its endogenous problems; of remembering the high standards which Mexico can attain when it learns to belong to itself rather than to others; of helping to find shared and sustainable solutions to its misfortunes; of motivating the entire nation to not be content with less than what is expected of a Mexican way of living in the world.”
In biblical language, the very high standard Francis posed to the bishops would imply a metanoia: a radical and profound change of thought and course, a conversion, underscoring that it be a “pastoral conversion,” warning that otherwise any plan or proposal from them will be merely rhetorical. “How unfortunate you are if you rest on your laurels!” And departing from his written speech, he ended by saying to them that “If you must argue, argue; if you have things to say, say them; but say them as men, face to face, and as men of God who then go to pray together and discern together. And if you have gone too far, then ask for forgiveness, but always maintain the unity of the episcopal body.”
“Spend the resources
collected on the migrants”
At the end of his speech to Mexico’s bishops, as also happened with the US bishops, he dealt with the migration issue, hoping to create a collaboration hook.
Last year he said to those from the United States that faced with “this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses... know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.”
Similarly he invited Mexico’s bishops to let “your hearts be capable of following these men and women [migrants crossing the country] and reaching them beyond the borders. Strengthen the communion with your brothers of the North American episcopate, so that the maternal presence of the Church can keep alive the roots of the faith of these men and women, as well as the motivation for their hope and the power of their charity. May it never happen, that, hanging up their lyres, their joys become dampened, they forget Jerusalem and are exiled from themselves. I ask you to witness together that the Church is the custodian of a unifying vision of humanity and that she cannot consent to being reduced to a mere human ‘resource.’”
He added that “your efforts will not be in vain when your dioceses show care by pouring balm on the injured feet of those who walk through your territories, sharing with them the resources collected through the sacrifices of many; the divine Samaritan in the end will enrich the person who is not indifferent to him as he lies on the side of the road.”
The three temptations:
Wealth, vanity and pride
In the afternoon of that first day, Francis went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Days before his visit, through a recorded video, he had asked to be allowed a moment alone with the Virgin of Guadalupe. And he was given it. After Mass, he went to the shrine where the image is, they opened it up and he sat before her in silence for more than 20 minutes.
The next day he was in Ecatepec, which was prepared for the visit. Ecatepec is one of the most impoverished areas of the center of the country, although Mexico’s very poorest are in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero.
Social networks spoke about the first “miracle” of the pope’s visit: streets had been paved and streetlights put up in the area. In the Mass he celebrated there, as in all of his Eucharistic celebrations, he was discreet and brief in his homilies, focusing on biblical readings of the day’s liturgy.
That day he spoke of the “three temptations of Christ” that Christians face every day: “...three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down... First, wealth: seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for ‘my own people.’ That is, taking the ‘bread’ based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives. That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. This is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.”
The second temptation is “vanity: the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who ‘are not like me.’ The futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the ‘reputation’ of others.”
And third, ‘Making firewood from a felled tree’ gives way to the third temptation, the worst, Pride, or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of ‘mere mortals,’ and yet being one who prays every day: ‘I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others’....”
Atonement in Chiapas
On Monday, February 15, Francis went to San Cristóbal de las Casas, to the land and people of Tatic (Father) Samuel Ruiz, who was the pastor and bishop of that diocese between 1960 and his death in 2011.
Francis celebrated the Eucharist there with music and indigenous rituals, looked upon by the amazed eyes of the ceremonious Vatican accompaniers of the pontiff: there were biblical readings, prayers, dances, music, signs and words in their languages, married deacons, priests with stoles embroidered by indigenous people, as was the miter the pope wore...
Through this celebration of faith, the center and apex of Christian life, Francis redeemed and reconciled what John Paul II, with his planner, nuncio Jerónimo Prigione (1978-1997), had ignored and even condemned. That earlier event had bordered on “low intensity” persecution, similar to the “low-intensity war” the people and autonomous communities of Los Altos de Chiapas have lived with and survived since 1994, after the armed uprising in January of that year by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).
Francis began his homily in Tzotzil: “Li smantal Kajvaltike toj lek” (The law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul). He referred to the exodus of the people of Israel, “a people who experienced slavery and the Pharaoh’s tyranny, who endured suffering and oppression to the point where God said, ‘Enough! No more! I have seen their affliction, I have heard their cry, I know their sufferings.’” The pope then interwove words from this biblical narrative with those of the Popol Vuh, which gathers the wisdom of the Mayan people. “In this expression,” he said, “one hears the yearning to live in freedom, there is a longing which contemplates a promised land where oppression, mistreatment and humiliation are not the currency of the day. In the heart of man and in the memory of many of our peoples is imprinted this yearning for a land, for a time when human corruption will be overcome by fraternity, when injustice will be conquered by solidarity and when violence will be silenced by peace.”
“Forgive me, brothers!”
Representatives of the indigenous people congregated in the square, spoke during the Mass and called Francis Tatic, like they used to call Samuel Ruiz.
The pope touched upon the issue of the environment as a challenge that “demands our response,” saying that “we can no longer remain silent before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history.” It was a revisiting of what he said in his encyclical “Laudato Si.” He told them that “on many occasions, in a systematic and organized way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society. Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them. How sad this is! How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, “Forgive me!” Today’s world, ravaged as it is by a throwaway culture, needs you!”
After Mass, Francis went to eat at the home of the local bishop, Felipe Arizmendi, Tatic Samuel Ruiz’ successor, who is more than 75 years old and about to end his ministry in the diocese. Arizmendi’s coadjutor bishop, an indigenous deacon and his wife, an indigenous priest and other indigenous community leaders also ate with them.
At Tatic Samuel Ruíz’s tomb
Before leaving San Cristóbal to head to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, Francis went to the Cathedral to pray and bless the sepulcher where Tatic Samuel Ruiz’s remains rest. Beside him was Raúl Vera, bishop of Saltillo, the voice of the mothers of the missing in Mexico, who is so annoying to many bishops and the government.
Under the instructions of Nuncio Prigione, John Paul II had named Vera auxiliary bishop in 1995, to act as a “counterweight” to Samuel Ruiz. But the plan hadn’t worked because Vera was “converted” and became yet another ally of the indigenous peoples and communities. Faced with Prigione’s failed strategy, Vera was transferred to the Saltillo diocese a year before Samuel Ruiz turned 75, to avoid the “continuation” of Samuel Ruiz’s work.
Even though Francis’ reunion with Samuel Ruiz was in silence, this gesture was the most important part of his trip. The pope’s words in the previous Mass, recalling the Aparecida document, written in May 2007 in a meeting of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean at the shrine of the Virgin of Aparecida in Brazil for their fifth general conference and edited by a committee headed by the future Pope Francis, took on more meaning at the tomb of Tatic Samuel Ruiz. Before the subjects of his evangelization, the indigenous people, he said in a Mass, “You have much to teach us. Your peoples, as the bishops of Latin America have recognized, know how to interact harmoniously with nature, which they respect as a ‘source of food, a common home and an altar of human sharing.’”
He didn’t call on Mexico’s
youth to “cause trouble”
In Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Francis had a meeting and dialogue with families. In Morelia, it was with youth. And in Ciudad Juárez, it was with prisoners in a local prison. In all three activities, the same scheme was repeated: respectively families, youth and a female prisoner first came to the pope to tell him their personal situations and experiences.
Different from other encounters with the same dynamic during his trips to Brazil (July 2013), Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay (July 2015) or the United States (September 2015) or even some events in the Vatican itself, on only one occasion did Pope Francis seem to be taking note of what was being said to him. To avoid improvising, his answers were prepared and he read everything he brought.
“It is a lie that the only way to live, or to be young,” he said to the youth, “is to entrust oneself to drug dealers or others who do nothing but sow destruction and death. This is a lie and we say it holding on to Jesus’ hand. It is also hand in hand with Jesus Christ, with the Lord, that we can say: it is a lie that the only way to live as young people here is in poverty and exclusion; in the exclusion of opportunities, in the exclusion of spaces, in the exclusion of training and education, in the exclusion of hope. It is Jesus Christ who refutes all attempts to render you useless or to be mere mercenaries of other people’s ambitions. They are ambitions which exclude you, to use you in the areas I mentioned, which you know well, and which end up destroying.”
He called on them to be united, to have hope, but he didn’t tell them to “cause trouble” as he had in 2013 in Brazil. He didn’t say that to the youth of Mexico who have taken to the streets, social networks, classrooms and school hallways to shout, “We’re not all here, 43 are missing! You took them alive, we want them back alive!” and “The State did it!,” a consciousness that has united them.
He met with youth in Morelia, in the stadium where the Monarcas soccer team plays, property of TV Azteca, which set up a show with snazzy scenography. During this meeting Pope Francis did not mention the words justice or freedom.
Last stage: Ciudad Juárez
In Ciudad Juárez, the last stop of his visit to Mexico, a border city where the transnational maquilas are the economy’s motor, Pope Francis met with the “world of work” in an auditorium with fewer than three thousand people. There were probably more business owners than workers.
“God will hold us accountable for the slaves of our day,” he told them, “and we must do everything to make sure that these situations do not happen again. The flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people.... I know it is not easy to get along in an increasingly competitive world, but it is worse to allow the competitive world to ruin the destiny of the people. Profit and capital are not a good over and above the human person; they are at the service of the common good. When the common good is used only in the service of profit and capital, the only thing gained is known as exclusion... and this is how a throwaway culture is consolidated: Discarded! Excluded! “
Before leaving, Francis led a Eucharist
on the border of the United States, only meters from what is known as the Río Bravo to Mexicans and the Río Grande to people in the United States. A group of Mexicans and other Latinos followed the Mass from El Paso, Texas, and greeted the pope, who blessed them from Mexico with a big cross that had the silhouette of the family from Nazareth in their flight from Egypt.
Juárez: Migrants and women
Ciudad Juárez is emblematic for its femicide against working women. The pope didn’t make that reference explicitly, but he did speak in a broader sense of the vulnerability of so many people in this border city, when referring to the phenomenon of the migration of young people: “We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those expelled by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations. Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are ‘cannon fodder,,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs, not to mention the tragic predicament of the many women whose lives have been unjustly taken.” Those were his words about the women murdered in Ciudad Juarez.
“You were brave, Beatriz”
Only two states in Mexico have received the Interior Ministry’s declaration of a “gender violence alert”: the state of Mexico and its eleven municipalities and the state of Morelos. Jalisco declared a “gender violence alert” on its own account.
Speaking of the pope’s words to women, we must point out that Francis acknowledged single mothers in Tuxtla Gutiérrez after listening to the testimony of Beatriz, who was able to get ahead with her three children despite adversity and social rejection and only her family’s support.
“Let’s imagine,” said Francis, “all the people, all the women who go through what Beatriz went through. Uncertainty, insufficiency and often not having the bare essentials can lead to despair, can make us deeply anxious because we cannot see a way forward, especially when we have children in our care. Uncertainty is not only a threat to our stomach, which is already serious, but it can also threaten our soul, demoralizing us and taking away our energy so that we seek apparent solutions that in the end solve nothing. You were brave, Beatrice, thank you. There is a kind of uncertainty which can be very dangerous, which can creep in surreptitiously; it is the uncertainty born of solitude and isolation. And isolation is always a bad counselor.”
In the evening, Pope Francis was accompanied to the airport by President Peña Nieto. The farewell was without speeches, just the national anthems of Mexico and the Vatican. Before the formal farewell, they took him through a catwalk of people, in which First Lady Angélica Rivera, former Televisa actress, guided the pope and indicated who he should greet.
A government with “makeup”
In their February 23rd report about the state of the Zapatista communities, subcomandantes Moisés and Galeano from the EZLN summarized what had happened in Mexico “to please the visitor,” who in the days before his arrival had said he was coming to “learn” about Mexico. They said, “We don’t want to be like the bad governments who over the past ays have applied extensive makeup, apparently to please the visitor and so he wouldn’t see what was happening underneath it. But all that makeup only served to show how fake the government is. That is, what reasonably intelligent person wouldn’t see the truth? Now whether that person admits or denies what they see, that is something else and that’s on them.”
What would that visit be like...?
Francis, the pope and the Vatican Head of State, has left. As long as the pastor of the Catholic Church, the bishop of Rome, is also the Vatican Head of State, this second role will subordinate the first; it will see to the forms established by protocol; it will walk and talk what is politically correct, what doesn’t hurt; it will negotiate words and meetings; it will delimit his freedom.
What would a papal visit be like with a pastor that wouldn’t simultaneously be Head of State, who would have left that role to a layperson? It’s time. “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization,” says Francis in paragraph 32 of his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium.”
José Rubén Alonso González heads the Social Sciences and Humanities Department of the University of Atamajac Valley (UNIVA), Zapopan, Jalisco.