Pope, Arriving in Mexico, Decries Violence There and Marxism in Cuba
By DAMIEN CAVE and KARLA ZABLUDOVSKY, SILAO, MEXICO — Pope Benedict XVI landed here Friday, starting his first trip to Latin America with a warm greeting from Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón, and thousands of Catholics from all over Mexico who waved flags, shouted and cheered at the mere sound of his approach.Here at the airport in Silao, between Guanajuato and Leon, a crowd of thousands filled outdoor bleachers while the papal route was swarmed with well-wishers hours before the Pope’s plane landed. when it touched down around 4:15 p.m. local time, the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Benedicto.”
The Pope is expected to speak at greater length at an outdoor Mass on Sunday in Guanajuato, but even before he touched ground, he addressed the main issue on the minds of Mexican Catholics, and he tackled the thorny topic of government in Cuba, where he will head Monday for the second and final leg of his journey.
For his audience in Mexico, where Catholics are distraught over the deaths 50,000 people since the government’s war against drug cartels began in late 2006, Pope Benedict emphasized that Mexico´s violence is caused by greed. The Church, he told reporters on the Papal plane, has a responsibility to guide young people away from that false promise, “to educate the conscience, teach moral responsibility and strip off the mask, the idolatry of money that enslaves mankind.”
Pope Benedict XVI also said on the plane that “Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality,” and he urged Cubans to “find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.”
It remains to be seen how far he will go in criticizing the Cuban government for its limits on human rights, and the Mexican government for its violent drug war, but within minutes of his arrival here, it was clear that the clergy and faithful in both countries, he is likely to receive a warm welcome.
It was clear on his arrival in Silao that he had chosen friendly territory.
Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic — only Brazil has more members of the faith — and Guanajuato has been the Catholic heart of Mexico for centuries.
The arid mining area, which once produced nearly a third of the world’s silver, was where the Mexican revolution started in 1810, and where in the 1920s, a Catholic rebellion led to widespread martyrdom as the faithful took up arms against laws that stripped the church of power, land and even the priests’ right wear clerical collars. Today, census figures show the state of Guanajuato still has the country’s highest concentration of Catholics (94 percent), and scholars say the area remains a bastion of the conservative teachings favored by both Pope Benedict XVI and Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón, who will be meeting with him Saturday afternoon.
But the warm local embrace belies a number of larger challenges. Pope Benedict is visiting a country wounded by years of drug related violence and a church whose priests have been both complicit with and victimized by drug cartels. He is not nearly as beloved by Mexicans as John Paul II, whose first trip abroad included Mexico, and Catholics and critics of the church are demanding that Pope Benedict XVI address — with compassing and clarity — not just the bloodshed ripping Mexico apart, but also a sexual scandal involving a sect favored by the Vatican for years.
That scandal, centered on a group called the Legions of Christ and its founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado has been a wound that keeps opening. The accusations that Father Maciel was a drug addict who abused teenaged seminarians re-emerged just this week with a new book by a former Legion priest, which cites internal Vatican documents supposedly showing the Holy See knew decades ago about the allegations against Father Maciel, who died in 2008.
Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, ultimately removed Father Maciel from his priestly duties in 2006, but some experts in church relations and former victims say that his efforts have fallen short. They argue that he knew about Father Maciel, from testimony of other priests, since at least 1998, and that if he fails to address the case during his visit this week, he will have missed an opportunity to heal a country of Catholics eager for closure.
Nonetheless, despite a hand written request for a meeting with the pope from a 75-year-old victim of Father Maciel, the Vatican has suggested that the Pope will not meet any victims. Few expect him to speak about the scandal at all.
“The Pope is going to talk about religious freedom, but won’t touch the issue of pederasty,” said Roberto Blancarte, a professor and expert in the Mexican Catholic Church at Colegio de Mexico. Referring to accusations that the Pope delayed investigations into Father Maciel when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he added: “We will have, during this Papal visit, the great silence of Ratzinger.”
He added that such silence would be “inexplicable,” given the accusations against the order, which acknowledged Father Maciel’s abuse in 2010.
Many Catholics say that expectations are low in part because Pope Benedict XVI lacks the charisma and warmth of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. At the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe outside Mexico City this week — the most important pilgrimage site for Mexicans — many Catholics said they were not going to Guanuajuato, and did not anticipate an outpouring of emotion because of the visit.
“I respect him as the chief of the Church, but my way of feeling for him is different from how I felt about John Paul,” said Maria Ontiveros, 65. “For John Paul, I felt an incredible tranquility, a trust.”
“John Paul was more flexible in his way of being,” she added, but as for Benedict: “No, he’s inflexible.”
But for many, the presence of the Pope – up close and personal – meant more than any comparison.
“He has more seriousness to his appearance but for me, its not so much the person but the position he has,” said Carlos Perea, Queretaro, 43, standing in the hot sun near the airport exit. “He is the Pope, successor of Christ.”