Pope Francis Visits Mexico: Significance of His Planned Encounters in Chiapas
sinembargo: Francisco Ortiz Pinchetti
I am convinced that the visit of Pope Francis to Mexico, which starts in one week, will leave a mark on our country. Contrary to what the sceptics think, the presence of the Argentinian pontiff who is the first Jesuit and first Latin American to occupy San Pedro’s throne, will have an unprecedented impact on the spirit of the people through his humble manner, the simplicity of his message and his peculiar charisma. He is going to surprise us.
Personally, I am filled with great expectation regarding the event. I think that the central message of his visit will mean a shift for the church, particularly, in terms of evangelism to the poor. Since the agenda of his trip to Mexico was announced, I was struck by his interest in going to Chiapas, particularly to San Cristobal de las Casas, to meet with the indigenous communities. I was further struck when the Pope himself confirmed in an interview that this particular part of his visit had been decided by him personally.
Few people know that during the early seventies, as young 33-year-old, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was in the highlands of Chiapas. It was soon after being ordained as a Priest (1969) and before being appointed as Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina (1973-1979); he visited the Jesuit mission of Bachajón, founded in 1958, which was a Tzotzil-Tzeltal community in Altos de Chiapas. His fellow co-religionists, who started this mission as charity, relief work, had inevitably moved towards a commitment to liberation theology.
This transition began at the arrival of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia at the Diocese of San Cristobal. The Jesuits became increasingly active in their participation with diocesan priests and catechists and Marists raising awareness of indigenous communities. As a result, this led firstly to the creation of the First “Fray Bartolome de las Casas” Indigenous Congress in the old royal city in October 1974 and secondly, 20 years later it would leaven the armed uprising of January 1, 1994.
Father Begoglio shared their pastoral preference for the poor. Between 1967 and 1970 he studied theology at the Faculty of Theology at the Superior College of San Jose (Colegio Maximo) in the Argentinian city of San Miguel. During his time there he was deeply influenced in his thinking about ‘discipleship’ by none other than Jesuit theologian, Juan Carols Scannone, founder of liberation philosophy and the theology of the people (an autonomous Argentinian stream of liberation theology).
Although there is no detailed record referring to it, during his brief stay in Chiapas the current Pope would have come to know first-hand about the dramatic reality of the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol, and Tojolabal people living in extreme poverty as victims of injustice, segregation, dispossession of their land and discrimination. Perhaps he lived with other priests such as Mardonio Morales, totally devoting themselves to social works and defence of indigenous rights. It is a fact that such an experience has touched him.
However, when Pope Francis began his pontificate in March 2013, conservative catholic sectors celebrated his alleged opposition to the theology of liberating the poorest. They remembered the bishops meeting in 2007 at the Marian shrine of Aparecida in Brazil, where the then archbishop of Buenos Aires, who was in charge of conclusions of the conclave, could have inflicted an “overwhelming defeat” to the Latin American theologians committed to the liberal line.
It was not so. Monsignor Bergoglio criticized, in effect, the “ideology” of the socially oriented pastoral work that seemed to befall a sector of the Latin-American church and rejected the validity of the Marxist analysis of the reality of our nations; but true to his fundamental convictions, he kept his preferential option for the poor as inscribed in the current Argentinian theology of the people. There is sufficient evidence of this.
In a recent article, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, co-founder of liberation theology with Peruvian Gustavo Gutiérrez, commented on the current position of the Pope in this regard, based on his own judgement.
“Many have been asking if the current Pope Francis is a follower of the theology of liberation, as he comes from Latin America. This question is irrelevant. What matters is not liberation theology but liberation of the oppressed, the poor and those who suffer injustice. And that is undoubtedly what Francis is,” he wrote.
Boff, who was suspended as a priest during the pontificate of John Paul II, also noted that Pope Francis actually made this choice for the poor. He lived and lives simply, in solidarity with them, and said clearly in one of his first speeches, “How I would like a poor church for the poor!” In the same way, Pope Francis “is carrying out the primary intuition of liberation theology and seconding its trademark: the preferential choice of the poor, against poverty and in favour of life and justice.”
Another telling fact was the beatification last May 23rd of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Salvadoran Archbishop who was killed in the middle of mass in 1980 for his commitment to the most deprived. The Jesuit Pope specifically elevated a martyr of liberation theology.
On Monday, February 15, Francis will hold a large mass with 100,000 members of indigenous communities of Chiapas on a baseball field in San Cristobal las Casas. Later, he will eat lunch with Felipe Arizmendi, the current Bishop of the diocese, as well as with 8 representatives from various ethnic groups: a priest, a nun, a seminarian, a young woman, a catechist with his wife and a permanent deacon and his wife. Furthermore, in a highly symbolic act, he will visit the tomb of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia in the Cathedral. I am sure that this day will be an occasion of transcendent definition. And a historic reunion. Mark my word!
Translated by Reed Brundage