Thousands of indigenous members of Mexican ethnicity attended the mass celebrated by Pope Francis in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Francis denounces exploitation of indigenous people
BY NICOLE WINFIELD
AND SONIA PEREZ D
The Associated Press
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Chiapas – Pope Francis denounced the centuries-old exploitation and exclusion of Mexico’s indigenous people Monday and prayed before the tomb of their controversial priestly protector during a visit heavy in symbolism to the rolling hills of southern Chiapas state.
Francis celebrated a Mass for Mexican Indians that featured readings in the native languages of Chiapas, a traditional dance of prayer and the participation of married indigenous deacons, whose ministry had been suspended by the Vatican but was revived under Francis.
The visit, at the halfway mark of Francis’ five-day trip to Mexico, was of great personal importance for the pope. He insisted on visiting San Cristóbal de las Casas, where the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz ministered to Mexico’s poorest and supported blending their indigenous culture into Catholic rituals, much to the dismay of Mexico’s church hierarchy and occasionally the Vatican.
In his homily, Francis denounced how, “in a systematic and organized way,” indigenous people have been misunderstood and excluded from society over the course of history.
“Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior,” he said. “Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them.”
He called for a collective “Forgive me.”
“Today’s world, ravaged as it is by a throwaway culture, needs you!” he told the crowd that included many indigenous people, some in traditional dress, who gathered under clear skies at a sports complex in the mountain city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
The soft sounds of marimbas accompanied the Mass, which was celebrated in front of a replica of the brilliant yellow and red facade of the San Cristóbal cathedral, where Francis visited later in the day.
At one point, Francis slipped behind the altar where Ruiz’s tomb is located and emerged a few minutes later after a brief prayer, said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Crowds chanted “Long live the pope of the poor!” and “Welcome, pope of the struggle!” as he arrived for the Mass.
The pope has frequently expressed admiration for indigenous peoples, and he issued a sweeping apology last year while in Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s colonial-era crimes against America’s indigenous.
He has also spoken out about the need to care for the environment.
Francis’ visit to Chiapas and celebration of native culture was in many ways a swipe at the Mexican church hierarchy, which has long sought to downplay the local culture and bristled at the “Indian church,” a mixture of Catholicism and indigenous culture that includes pine boughs, eggs and references to “God the Father and Mother.”
It was a tradition that was embraced by Ruiz, who died in 2011 after some 40 years at the helm of the San Cristóbal diocese.
At the end of the Mass, Francis presented members of the indigenous community with an official Vatican decree formalizing approval for another native language to be used at Mass. The Vatican spokesman said approval for the main languages of Chiapas is still pending, but that the fact that Francis used them in a papal Mass was a sign that they could be used locally.
At the end of Mass, indigenous people thanked Francis publicly for the decree and for recognizing their culture.
After the Mass, the pope heard testimony from Chiapas families about the hardships they face. He warned of modern ideologies that seek to destroy the family and called for it to be protected.
Such ideas foster isolation in society and “we end up being colonies of ideologies that destroy the family, the family nucleus that is the healthy base of all society,” the pontiff said.
He said he understands that it is not always easy to live in a family but that it is worthwhile trying to do so.
“I prefer a wounded family that strives every day to unite in love to a society sickened by closure and the comfort of fearing to love,” he said.