Faith and Change in Mexico

What Benedict XVI Has Told the Nation’s Bishops

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ROME, OCT. 8, 2005 ( Mexico’s bishops came to Rome last month for their «ad limina» visit. The tradition of the five-yearly visits by each countries’ bishops to venerate the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul, and to meet with the Pope and Vatican officials, also gives observers an insight into Rome’s concerns, as reflected in the Holy Father’s speeches.

The first of four groups from Mexico had an audience with Benedict XVI on Sept. 8. The Pope started by noting the need for bishops to join together and to continue on the path of fraternal communion, in order to better exercise their office.

He also observed that the peoples and cultures that make up the Mexican nation have been united by the presence of Christ and also the mediation of Mary. Now, however, «Mexico is living through a process of transition,» he said. There is greater pressure for improving the situation of the poor, defending human rights, and deepening democracy.

The changes in Mexico mean that the Church is faced with the challenge of helping the country’s Catholics to live their traditional faith in new circumstances. Forming people in their faith, continued the Pontiff, is especially necessary for young people, who «find themselves facing a society marked by growing cultural and religious pluralism.»

The Pope encouraged the bishops to stay close to the young, and not to let the new generations fall prey to modern tendencies that lure them into believing they do not need God. Thus fired up in their faith, the young people in turn would be prepared to follow Christ and to transform society, the Holy Father said.

Help is also needed for families and parents, to ensure that the faith is strengthened and handed on to their children, Benedict XVI said. Catechesis and religion classes at school also play a necessary role in instructing the young, the Pope added. Yet faith is not just a question of knowledge, he said. Rather, «a personal encounter with the Lord» is essential.

Benedict XVI observed some positive trends in the work of evangelization in Mexico. He cited the work done by more than 400 institutes of consecrated life, many of them dedicated to working in the field of education and helping the poor. The Pope also noted the growth of lay movements active in the country.

At the same time, the Church in Mexico faces «complex» realities and challenges. The Holy Father encouraged the country’s pastors to increase the Christian presence in the media. He also noted: «Contemporary society is questioning and observing the Church, demanding consistency and daring in the faith.»

Social sins

Benedict XVI’s speech on Sept. 15 to the second group of Mexican bishops addressed economic and social problems. He quoted the Second Vatican Council document «Gaudium et Spes,» No. 43, which called upon the faithful not to divide what they profess in their faith and how they live their daily lives. The Pope said that Catholics must take part in the process of transforming the social structures in Mexico, «to make them conform better to the dignity of the person and to his or her fundamental rights.»

The Pontiff commented on «the greed for power» in certain circles, and the presence of corruption and organized crime that has led to violence and contempt for the value of life.

Moreover, the traditional values of hospitality, brotherliness and solidarity practiced by many of the faithful are now endangered by the large scale of emigration. Many of those who leave Mexico work in difficult conditions and have problems in preserving their identity in a different culture, the Holy Father said. The positive side is that emigration can encourage the evangelization of other cultures, the Pope added.

Returning to pastoral themes, Benedict XVI spoke of the challenge due to people no longer practicing their faith, even though they still profess themselves Catholic. Another challenge for Mexico’s bishops is how to deal with the sects and new religious groups. Dealing with this, the Pope recommended, requires the Church to offer more personal attention «and to propose a purified popular religiosity so as to give new life to every Catholic’s faith.»

Pastors of the Church

Addressing the third group from Mexico, Benedict XVI concentrated on outlining the responsibilities of a bishop. In his Sept. 23 address the Pope noted that the prelates must carefully analyze the needs of society and the faithful in order to fulfill their task as successors of the apostles.

Amid the diverse situations and needs of the faithful, each bishop is called upon to make the Church a place of communion, capable of giving an answer to the challenges posed by the world, the Holy Father said.

Each bishop must also ensure that the faithful participate in the life of the diocese, but he is also called upon to announce Christ’s message to those who no longer practice their faith. In doing this, the bishops must know how to adapt their language and methods, the Pope commented. He also asked that the bishops give pride of place to looking after their priests, particularly in ensuring that they are men of prayer.


The last group of bishops from Mexico had a papal audience Sept. 29. Once more reflecting on a bishop’s role, the Pope called to mind the words of Christ, «The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many» (Matthew 20:28).

Noting the natural joy and love of celebrations so common among Mexicans, the Pope also recommended that the bishops find a way to guide this joyfulness and spontaneity into a solid and mature faith, capable of living a coherent life.

The Holy Father also spoke of the priority the bishops should give in helping the poor, following the example of the first Christian communities. He encouraged them in their work with women, asking them to help change some societal attitudes so that they are treated with dignity and that their role as mothers and educators of their children is respected.

The Pope also had a chance, on Sept. 23, to address the new ambassador from Mexico to the Holy See, Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. After noting the progress made since diplomatic relations were established in 1992, Benedict XVI dealt with the theme of religious freedom in a secular state. The state, he said, «must serve and protect the freedom of its citizens and the religious practice they choose without any kind of restriction or coercion.»

The Pope noted the force of a growing secularism that tries to reduce religion to a mere private matter «and to eliminate any social or public expression of religion.» But, he continued, «the Christian message reinforces and illumines the basic principles of all coexistence.»

Benedict XVI referred to the elections coming up in 2006 and expressed the hope it would be an opportunity to strengthen democracy. «Political activity in Mexico must naturally continue to be exercised as an effective service to the nation,» he insisted. Clearly, both Church and state in Mexico are in a time of transition.

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