The Papal Visit and the 43

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Feb 17, 2016 (San Diego) The 43 students from the Isidro Burgos Normal school in Ayotzinapa are still missing. This fact has not changed. Or that the government says that the case is closed. What did change is the refusal of the Pope to meet with leaders of the group. He was originally going to, but things changed.The Pope, according to the Nuncio, as reported by CBS, is not going to solve the problems of the country. But to call attention to those who need it, poor or rich.

This can be read in many ways. The most kind is that the Pope does not want to get involved in an issue that has torn the country. This we can understand. It is politically expedient, and could even be called a political triage of sorts.

The Papacy knows it can do much good behind the scenes without getting directly involved in this messy affair. But this is a tough road to hoe, because it is a slap in the face of many Mexicans who consider Ayotzinapa a symbol of all that has gone wrong. They took to the streets, they marched, and they still demand answers. These are not forthcoming and that is a slap in the face of many of the people who took to the streets.

Many Mexicans of all social classes believe that this is a coverup of immense proportions. A subset also believes this is beyond a coverup, but the reopening of the wounds of October ’68. I will belabor the point that the missing students were on their way to a rally to remember those bloody events just before the Olympic Games. On October 2, 1968 upwards of 1000 students went missing at the hands of the army. Mexico’s dirty war is just starting to be covered beyond academia. For many years none dared to speak of it, even in academia. It was one of those family secrets, we all know off, but none dares to bring up at the dinner table or in polite company.

Pope Francisco remembers that other dirty war. The one that happened at his home when he was a young cleric. Argentina’s dirty war is that much better known. Partly the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have kept it alive and it never became a family secret. In Mexico, on the other hand, the war in the Sierra in the state of Guerrero in the 1960s and 70s is not that well known. The left wing urban guerrillas are not that well known either. This is a scab of both history and memory, that still refuses to heal, but now is starting to be talked about.

Then there is the bloody present. The murder of women in Ciudad Juarez, the discovery of beheaded bodies along the roads to Veracruz, and outside Army HQ in Mexico City; the capture, escape and recapture of El Chapo; these are the sounds and headlines of the last decade. Ayotzinapa was one more piece from the war. 43 young people dead among 60,000 as of 2012 is a drop in the bucket for some. Still the 43 became the moment when for an instant the country said enough! We need to stop the bloodshed.

Still the refusal to meet did not play well. Part of the reason is that it betrays a certain level of brush this under the carpet and ignore the issue. On the other hand, the mass in Chiapas, offered in different native languages, not just Spanish, was not popular with the very conservative Mexican church hierarchy. Nor did the call on the part of the Pope to respect the high degree of religious syncretism that has taken place in Mexico. Especially among Native communities, such as the Maya.

This syncretism has evolved to incorporate native practices and believes into day to day religious practice. To this pope, all religious experiences seem to be equally valid, and a way to know god. To the hierarchy, this has been a fight to take out those dark practices, and replace them with a more white interpretation of faith. The pope’s call is a rebuke to this impulse to banish native ways from religious experience.

This is where that political triage might come in. Not meeting with the Ayotzinapa leaders gave the pope an opportunity to speak of another hot bottom issue, one that affects intra-Church politics more than national politics. One that was not very popular with the extremely conservative Mexican Church leadership which resents this liberal thinking.

At one point Pope Francisco was a member of the Liberation Theology movement. this movement stated that salvation was not in a future life, after death, but in making life better in the here and now. It spoke of dignify of the human condition and the redeeming quality of education and a right to health care for the poor and the dispossessed. In some ways it was a left wing revolutionary movement that fought against the right wing military dictatorships of central and south america. It was a movement of resistance.

For multiple reasons this movement was not very popular with the Mexican church leadership. There were internal purges and young clerics were separated from their flocks. This conflict remains to the present. The Pope’s words encouraging this very syncretism and adopting the views of the poor, are an echo of that philosophy he adopted in his youth, and the conflict that is just under the surface.

This should have an effect both in the religious life if Mexico, and it’s far more political lay side. It was an adoption of popular impulses that are just under the surface, pulsating and trying to come out. This visit also provides yet another look at this intra-war for the future of the Church.


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