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Papal Visit: My Friend the Pope

     >From Mexico, David Crow reports on the Pope's visit, which was so important that the report is forwarded in toto. My impression is that President Zedillo avoided any declaration of faith, right, David?
     "I humbly offer the viewpoint of a gringo caught up in the Mexican enthusiasm surrounding the Pope's visit. While marred by the commercialism I commented upon in my last message (the hottest new item: wallet-size calenders with a 3-D image of the Pope crossing himself when they are rotated, sold in the "Gigante" supermarket chain), the Pope nevertheless managed to convey a coherent, uplifting message that penetrated through the glitz.
     In sermons delivered at the Basilica of Guadalupe, the Hermanos Rodriguez Race Track (usually the site of massive rock concerts by groups such as the Rolling Stones and U2) and Aztec Stadium, the Pope stressed respect for human rights and the need for attending the poor. He called for a renewal of dialogue to break the standoff in Chiapas, asserting that indigenous groups have "priotary rights" as the original owners of the land. This statement was interpreted by some as an endorsement of autonomous regions and municipalities for ethnic groups.
     While the Pope condemned Liberation Theology as influenced by Marxism, he also explicitly rejected neoliberalism and the culture of "consumerism". This obviously endeared him to leftists here, which have traditionally been anti-Catholic.
     The Pope further called America the "continent of hope". Clearly, he wishes to shore up Catholicism in the Americas (especially Mexico), where it faces increasingly stiff competition from Protestant sects. During the mass held at Aztec Stadium, messages were transmitted live from Venezuela, Argentina, Peru and the United States (where 12,000 deacons reside, half of the worldwide total).
     On the other hand, the Pope emphasized religious liberty as the cornerstone of all other freedoms, declaring that each person must follow the dictates of consciousness as he or she understands them. Thus, he espoused values of religious tolerance and pluralism.
     The Pope was also courted by political leaders, including President Ernesto Zedillo --who received the Pope in the presidential residence known as "The Pines" ("Los Pinos")-- and Mexico City mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. The latter, while clarifying that he is not Catholic (as a true heir of Revolutionary anti-clericalism must), recognized the impact of the Catholic church on Mexican society and culture and emphasized the political aperture that has taken place in Mexico since the Pope's first visit in 1979.
     Diplomats and government officials lined up to kiss the Pope's hand at Los Pinos, some on their knees, cementing the thaw in Church-State relations that has taken place since 1992. That year, Carlos Salinas embarked upon a series of constitutional reforms (especially Article 130) that, among other things, legally recognized the Church and awarded clerics greater political rights --the vote, for example. This paved the way to renewed diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Salinas was accused of using the Church to legitimize his administration after rampant vote fraud in the 1988 elections. Zedillo would appear to be using the Pope to restore credibility lost as a result of the ongoing economic crisis.
     Controversial topics, such as the unresolved murder of Guadalajara Cardenal Posadas Ocampo in 1993 (the Church has never accepted the official explanation) and former Papal Nuncio Giralomo Priggione's intervention in state affairs were not touched upon.
     "The visit was highly successful, firming up the Church's stature as a leader on human rights issues and "economic justice". In fact, two of the leading human rightsgroups in Mexico are religious, the "Miguel Agustin Pro" Human Rights Center (Jesuits) and the "Friar Bartolome de las Casas" Human Rights Center (Dominicans). The Pope showed himself as both capable of understanding the Church's role in a changing world and politically shrewd in defending the Vatican's interests. Despite his evidently failing health, the content of his message (if not its shaky-handed delivery) seemed to me remarkably vital.
     While controversial points remain --particularly birth control and the role of women within religion-- the Church has modernized itself without diluting its moral authority in Latin America.
     Finally, the comments on confession in the one of the recent memorandums reminds me of a conversation I had with a Catholic roommate on the subject. I explained that Protestants confess directly to God, thus obviating the need for a priest to grant absolution. His response was brilliant: "Fantastic! So Protestants cut out the middlemen."

Ronald Hilton - 01/27/99

More on Papal Visit: My Friend the Pope

     A message from Pete McCloskey's wife Margaret McPenrod confirms the memo about the obstacles the Pope's crusade will encounter in the United States:
     "The Pope has nothing to say on the subject of poverty. A man who spearheads a religion which promotes uncontrolled reproduction has little to add on the subject. You simply cannot get people out of poverty if you do not allow them to control their fertility with REAL means, (as opposed to figments of MEN's imaginations, like the "rhythm method" and other idiocies.) Note--I am not addressing the issue of abortion here.--
     When I asked why he had only 3 children, my Mexican ranch manager, a man of impeccable intellect and intelligence, and who happens to be barely literate, responded: "Because it seemed to me I could not properly care for them if I had more." He showed great courage and independence in his response-- would that his courageous thinking could be cloned."

Ronald Hilton - 01/25/99