Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico will leave an indelible memory thanks to a tour that included states considered central to the country’s present reality and to the message he spread during his stay. The Latin American pontiff knows first-hand how governments ignore the situation of the neediest and how the Church acts as an accomplice to the powerful, as well as the neglect suffered by indigenous peoples, the impact of unfair economic systems and the sense of hopelessness that makes people turn to delinquency as the only apparent means to escape poverty.
In one way or another, these issues are at the core of the concerns of Mexicans. Francis constantly criticized the Church’s hierarchy’s gossiping, opulence and material comfort by repeating the message of a committed Church on the streets. In Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, the Pope spoke about those who have been left behind by the country’s unequal economic growth, apologized to indigenous peoples and highlighted their role in protecting the environment. In Michoacán, he addressed drug trafficking and, in Ciudad Juárez, immigration. Social issues and mercy were always included in his speeches.
But this rhetoric ‒ closer to the Church’s social doctrine ‒ was disappointing to many. The expectation was that this Pope, who is not one to mince words, would slam Peña-Nieto’s government and, at least, meet with the parents of the Ayotzinapa’s disappeared. However, none of this happened. The pressure exerted by the Mexican government ‒ who negotiated the Pope’s schedule and meetings with the Holy See ‒ effectively isolated the pontiff. There was tension from the beginning, as Jesuits ‒ the order to which Francis belongs ‒ are the main critics of the Mexican authorities within the Catholic Church.
Although ruled by a self-defined secular government, Mexico is a massive Catholic nation. This has allowed politicians to use religion to serve their interests and has made religious people vulnerable to being used. While Pope Francis’ diplomacy did not tackle earthly powers, it did reprimand their allies who turn a blind eye to corruption and injustice. We hope that the seeds sown during these few days between the faithful and the hierarchy will help initiate changes from within the Church that will allow it to end its immoral abuse of power.