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MEXICO: Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II has just completed his fifth visit to Mexico, and he seems to view it as the fortress of the faith. Bienvenido Macario says: "Looking at the contenders for the next pope, I am inclined to support Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico. He would be in a better position to implement guarded reforms needed by the Catholic Church the world over. Possibly the first non-European Pope, he could neutralize the damage done by the recent sex scandals that is plaguing the Church and later restore its credibility through reforms". Norberto Rivera is not among those commonly named, and I know little about his ideas, but from the viewpoint of Church strategy, it would make sense. Although the Virgin of Guadalupe has been proclaimed Patroness of the Americas, she is essentially Mexican; she chose Mexico. The Pope made several references to Mexico as something special. President Fox and wife were prominent in the ceremonies and had a private audience with the Pope. Church and state are now working together again, but PRI members were not prominent, and I have seen no comments by them.

The Catholic Church has passed through three phases. For centuries it was the tool of authoritarian governments in Europe and the Americas giving rise to the anticlericalism which besets it to this day. Beginning with the Reformation, ihe cult of supposed miracle-working saints was discredited, so a campaign was launched to decanonize spurious saints, including St. George. Finally came Medellin, Vatican II, and liberation theology to bring justice to oppressed peoples. That was the theme of the Pope's visit to Guatemala and Mexico. In Guatemala it was clear he sided with the Indians and their church defenders against military oppression. The new Guatemalan saint, Pedro de Betancur was a Spaniard from the Canary Islands, but in Guatemala he failed in his exams to become a priest, so he was employed as a gardener. a good but ignorant man of the soil, like the Indians.

In Mexico Juan Diego became the first Indian saint, and the impressive ceremonies featured choirs of mostly Indian singers and dancers in Indian costumes. The old concern for authentic miracles was swept aside. Now only one miracle is required. A young construction worker fell off a building. His mother prayed, apparently to Juan Diego, and he recovered. Doubts about the existence of Juan Diego were dismissed. Was he just the first of many Indian saints to be proclaimed throughout Latin America? The question was not answered, but the answer is probably yes, and two peasants from the Oaxaca area were beatified in a separate ceremony. In any case, the Pope is clearly promoting a pro-Indian, pro-oppressed policy. Is that why Fidel Castro sent 150 Cubans to the youth festival in Toronto? What does the Pope think about the civil war in Colombia? It is not clear if the Pope is now completely compos mentis, so it may well be that the Vatican establishment is pushing these policies.

In any case, the Pope has reversed the policy of declassifying saints. He has made 463 new saints, a record number. He has a special veneration for the Virgin Mary, notably the Portuguese Virgin of Fatima, which endears him to the Portuguese-speaking world. He promotes making the Virgin co-redeemer with Christ. This cult of the Virgin and of saints was one of the causes of the Protestant revolution. Will history repeat itself? The syncretism of the Catholic faith and of native American beliefs makes this very unlikely among the Indians and the oppressed, but the policy may well alienate their supposed oppressors and the more educated Latin Americans.

Ronald Hilton - 8/1/02