Mexico is used to being visited by the Pope. Between Benedict XVI and John Paul II – one and five times respectively – the country has seen six pontiff visits, preaching their pastoral message and receiving a warm welcome by the faithful. Francis’ visit will repeat the traditional meeting of the shepherd and his flock, only this time social criticism is expected to be part of the message.
John Paul II and Pope Francis share a charismatic personality, but the similarities end there. While the Polish pontiff’s priority was condemning communism — a posture that generated opposition among progressive Catholics in Latin America, — the Argentine Jesuit has made the Church’s social doctrine his compass.
Ever since the Pope’s visit to Mexico was announced, it has been stressed that this would be a religious, official pastoral tour of the Vatican’s head of state in which there would be no room for domestic politics. However, if Francis’ previous visits to South American countries are any indication, it will be no surprise if he addresses the matters that concern Mexicans.
And with good reason, considering the difficult times our neighboring country is enduring. Public safety issues, corrupt authorities, drug cartel violence, overt impunity, the mistreatment of indigenous peoples and the murders and disappearances that never get solved have become part of daily life for Mexicans. Add to this the difficult and growing economic inequality to complete the reality of the country Pope Francis is about to visit.
The expectation is that the pontiff will meet with President Enrique Peña-Nieto to talk about the most urgent problems, such as human rights violations. During his tenure, Pope Francis has demonstrated a particular diplomatic ability to make himself heard by the powerful. This is the chance all Mexicans have been waiting for to have the pontiff speak about their concerns and frustrations on their behalf.
We hope that Francis’ visit generates more than a festive occasion and a heightened religious fervor on the population, as has been the case with previous papal visits. Hopefully, the Pope’s words regarding justice, human dignity and poverty as the result of an unequal economic system will continue to resonate among Mexicans once Francis has returned to the Vatican.