Zapatista Caravan Raises Mexican Bishops´ Hopes

They Hail Movement Toward Peaceful Dialogue on Indians´ Rights

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MEXICO CITY, FEB. 25, 2001 ( Mexico´s bishops declared publicly that they hope the caravan of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), which began its march to Mexico City today, will contribute to the re-establishment of peace in the country.

Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista guerrilla leader, led the caravan of 23 guerrilla commanders, which set out from San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas.

The group is expected to arrive in Mexico City, about 185 miles away, by March 11. There, the guerrillas will present their claims to the national Congress.

Before setting out, Marcos handed over his weapons to Major Moses, one of his lieutenants, who stayed behind to «protect» the community, the Zapatistas said.

The march has no precedents, since the outbreak of armed violence in January 1994, in rebellion against the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the United States and Canada. The guerrillas hope the march´s media appeal helps to promote their popularity.

In a statement published Saturday, members of the bishops´ Commission for Indians said they see signs of hope for peace in the Zapatista march, as well as new Mexican President Vicente Fox´s openness toward the guerrillas.

«Many leading protagonists in society demonstrate that they are willing to work for a successful end to the renewed efforts for peace,» the bishops´ statement said. «A new atmosphere and mentality are evident.»

The statement added: «Let us hope that these signs will be corresponded by evidence of good behavior and co-responsibility on the part of the EZLN. We Mexicans are convinced that guns do not build society, and we live together every day, facing the consequences of what we have done.»

The statement was signed, among others, by Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Coadjutor Archbishop Felipe Aguirre Franco of Acapulco, and Bishop Felipe Padilla Cardona of Tehuantepec. The members of the commission head dioceses with an Indian majority among the faithful.

The bishops said, «The Church is particularly interested in the legal and juridical development that will establish a more just order for the country´s Indian populations, without forgetting that ´a culture, to the degree that it is really vital, has no reason to fear being dominated.´»

The bishops appealed for respect for the caravan, as it progresses through the different Mexican states. «God willing,» they wrote, «… the caravan´s passage through the states will be in peace, respect and civility for the genuine good of the Indian peoples.»

«Without ignoring underlying ideologies,» they explained, «we think that the EZLN propositions seek what is called the integral reform of the state, in order to obtain greater dignity, justice and development for all.»

The bishops concluded: «The Indian cry ´never again a Mexico without us,´ must also be accompanied by ´never again a Mexico without Christ, never again a Mexico without the Gospel, never again a Mexico without the serious and responsible contribution of believers.»

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