What did the Pope’s visit mean for Mexicans?

Opinion: What experts think about striking topics in Mexico

By Oswaldo Mejía

Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Guanajuato as part of his tour through Latin America. According to the Pontiff’s spokepersons, the reason for this trip was to bring a message of peace and freedom. This visit took place just when the country is undergoing a difficult and crucial moment, when the nation faces severe social, political and economic problems. It also happened only a few months before the presidential election.

The Pope’s travels to different cities in the state generated divided opinions within the Mexican community. The bulk of the Catholic population saw the Pope’s visit as a sign of hope, a harbinger of better times, a form of divine intervention that can cause significant changes in these uncertain times.

In an exclusive interview for Atención, Laura Juarez, a researcher and analyst of religious issues at ITAM, said that although the Pope’s presence does not directly influence the solution to the serious problems Mexico is facing, his words and his message aim to generate awareness and sensitivity in those involved in organized crime. “Social changes begin on a personal level, and that is exactly the Pontiff’s intention: to transmit his speech of peace in order to raise awareness in people,” she said. “It is impossible to conceive of human integrity without faith and spirituality. Historically, people have always sought refuge in explanations and forces beyond themselves, to try to understand the world, and the Catholic Church does not only serve this function, but also assumes the responsibility of moral education through its institutions and representatives.”

However, there are differing opinions about the Pope’s visit. For sociologist Lydia Gonzales it was just a visit by the head of the Vatican, an official visit that works as a momentary catharsis for a sector of society. She said that none of the Pope’s activities influence the situation in the country; it is simply a symbolic act that could be used to advantage by presidential candidates. “There was an example of this when, during his administration, the then president Vicente Fox knelt before Pope John Paul II, kissed his ring and showed himself carrying a banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A similar situation occurred with Margarita Zavala, the wife of President Felipe Calderón, and recently, with the presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, who used the Pontiff’s image to announce his engagement to his current wife, actress Angelica Rivera,” said González. “Clearly, in a country where people commune with the principles of Catholicism, the meeting of a presidential candidate with the Pope is an act of political propaganda. It is no coincidence that the candidacy of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was confirmed in the days before the Pope’s arrival, and Lopez attended certain ceremonies led by Benedict. We would have to think about the concept of a secular state.”

Meanwhile, Pedro Agustín Rivera, chaplain rector of the old Basilica of Guadalupe, said in a TV interview that the concept of a secular state does not mean an anti-Catholic government system, as most people understand it. “The state is required to guarantee the rights of citizens, and all of them have the right of free choice to profess any religion; this means that the system must respect those who believe and those who do not.” Rivera added that “the state must understand that faith is indispensable in any society and time; perhaps the figure of the Pope has no effect but the faith itself, and this is clearly the message that Benedict brings in his speech, calling for sensitivity, peace and awareness of policy makers, citizens, criminal groups and people of good will who seek the common good in Mexico.”

Doubts about the apolitical character of Benedict’s visit increased since it became public that, for the press, the Pope selected the questions he would answer, and when questioned about the case of child abuse committed by Father Marcial Maciel, his spokesmen argued that this issue had been addressed on other occasions so there would be no more discussion of the issue.

Some people in Guanajuato saw this visit as an opportunity to profit. Weeks before the arrival of the Pope, they were already offering spots on balconies with good views of the “pope-mobile” and selling tickets. The commercial aspect of the visit was ignored by the media, whose content abounded with praise for the Pontiff.

In this chaos of opinions, people have the freedom to take any position; however, we should reflect on the facts and analysis of all information generated by the papal visit and think about what it means for the Mexican people.

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