Pope Francisco celebrates mass in San Cristóbal
Francisco calls for learning about the indigenous and asking their forgiveness
The Pope headed a mass before a crowd of thousands of indigenous Chiapanecos gathered in the San Cristóbal de las Casas Municipal Sports Center. Photo: Afp
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
With his presence Pope Francisco made a broad vindication of the indigenous people, from whom, he said, “we have much to learn.” He also called for asking them for forgiveness, and upon finishing the mass that he officiated here, he delivered a decree through which liturgical ceremonies in indigenous languages are formally authorized. With that, and his silent homage afterwards to Tatic Samuel Ruiz García at his tomb in the Cathedral, the Native church and Indian theology received the recognition that the Vatican denied them for years.
“Your peoples have not been understood and have been excluded from society. Some have considered your values, your cultures and your traditions inferior. Others, dizzied by power, money and the laws of the market, have dispossessed you of your lands or have carried out actions that contaminate them,” he said to the thousands of indigenous, the majority of them from Pueblo Creyente. “It would do all of us well to examine our conscience and learn to ask for pardon, pardon, brothers. Today’s world, dispossessed by the culture of waste, needs you.” In a certain fashion, he called to wake up, because “in many ways they have attempted to anesthetize our soul” to not feel the pain of injustice.
Directing himself to indigenous youth, “Pope Prancisco” (as the Tsotsiles pronounce his name because their language does not have the “F” sound) called for recognizing the dignity of their cultures, so “that the wisdom of the elders is not lost.” The world of today, he added, “a prisoner of pragmatism, needs to re-learn the value of gratuity. There is a longing to live in a freedom that has the taste of the Promised Land, where oppression, mistreatment and inequality are not common currency.”
Without ambiguities, with a short biblical psalm in Tsotsil and an explicit mention of the Popol Vuh, Pope Bergoglio officiated a two-hour mass together with indigenous deacons and seminarians of the San Cristóbal de Las Casas Diocese, giving liturgical readings and chants in their languages. Is Tsotsil the new Latin, inaccessible to the also numerous non-indigenous faithful, but close to the people in their communities? Remember that indigenous Catholicism in Chiapas is rural.
Another one of the Pope’s central pronouncements was with respect to the violence and injustice that have provoked “one of the biggest environmental crisis in history,” something also linked to the rights of the native peoples.
Although without the spectacle that his meeting with the indigenous of Bolivia had, his visit to Los Altos (the Highlands) turned out to be, within what’s possible, a successful meeting with the Maya of the Mexican southeast. It was certainly far from his disagreement with Native peoples of the United States on his visit to Washington months ago, where he canonized the missionary Junipero Serra, who the Indians consider responsible for genocide and an agent of dispossession.
In the Municipal Sports Centre, converted into a sacred arena and practically full, the presence of Tseltales, Tsotsiles, Choles, Tojolabales and marginally Mam and Kaqchiqueles is eloquent. Many of them waited since two or three in the morning; there were those that were there for six hours before they started to move in the line to enter the field for the mass, most without losing spirit. One does not perceive an atmosphere of fanaticism or superstitious adoration. Definitely an atmosphere of joy! The Zinacantecans, and especially the Zinacantán women, came by the thousands, not only to the mass; many posted themselves very early on the boulevard and the crowded Avenida Insurgentes, behind the steel walls; recognizable and showy with their clothes embroidered in purples and pinks. On the other hand the Chamulas, San Cristóbal’s other Tsotsil neighbors, almost shined for their absence, being perhaps the majority population of this city and its surrounding areas. It happens that they are not usually recognized as Catholics. A few in their native land, 15 kilometres from here, practice the traditional religion; others, in San Cristóbal, children of the exodus due to religious persecution, are Protestants and the Pope sees them the same way.
Listening to a woman read Leviticus in Chol, or the songs of the Acteal Choir, amplified; observing the staging, the monumental reproduction of the Cathedral’s façade on wooden frames, the presence of the Black Christ of Tila, and on the front the coloured doves of Amatenango and clay jaguars that from a distance seem like watchdogs. In the symbolic and the real, the indigenous accent is inevitable. So much so that even Coca Cola hung greetings to the Pope in (bad) Tsotsil. The contingents from San Andrés, Chenalhó, Huixtán and El Bosque are large as are those that arrived from different parts of the Lacandón Jungle. But, there are also those from Cancuc, Chilón, Las Margaritas, Altamirano, Oxchuc, Tila, Palenque, Chalchihuitán and Simojovel.
Like El Cid, Tatic Samuel won ecclesiastic battles. Even his favourite marimba group, Las Hermanas Díaz, was the one that harmonized the mass, besides a Mixe band and a local mega-mariachi.
The papal message of asking the indigenous for pardon was on target. A Coleta  woman reacted to street television upon hearing Francisco: “In other words I have to ask forgiveness from the man in the market, who is so nasty with me?”
 A Coleta is a female resident of San Cristóbal who claims direct descent from the Spanish invaders. You can read into that definition a sense of superiority to the native peoples.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee