Benedict XVIs Message for Mexico and Her Priests

Conversation With Three Priests of the Pontifical Mexican College of Rome

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, MARCH 12, 2012 ( Eleven days before the Pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba, ZENIT visited the Pontifical Mexican College of Rome, founded in 1967 by the Mexican episcopate. 

At present, the college is home to 112 priests and four deacons. ZENIT spoke with three of the priests: Father Armando Flores Navarro of the dioceses of Zamora in Michoacán and present rector of the College; as well as with Father Javier Yael Cebada of the diocese of Orizaba in Veracruz, who is studying dogmatic theology, and Father Emmanuel Leal Montes of the diocese of La Paz in Baja California, who is specializing in philosophy.

ZENIT: It is said that only in Mexico do they know how to receive the Pope. Is this true?

Father Yael: We are a people of faith, grateful to God for all we have received from Him. For us, the Pope is Christ’s representative and we are very happy and moved by his visit to Mexico. We are a joyful people who are happy to receive their pastor.

ZENIT: But is the Mexican nation expecting something from the word of its universal pastor?

Father Yael: First we want to be encouraged in the faith. We are living particular situations which concern us all, not just Catholics. We need to be nourished in our faith and hope, to be men amid the particular circumstances that Mexico and other peoples are living, such as insecurity and other very difficult subjects. The figure of the Pope and his presence come to give us that light, that serenity and that depth in order to be men of work who struggle and continue to hope. In this visit, which is not of a political nature, we need to hear our pastor. And the Pope speaks with wide horizons.

Father Leal: The people wait for the message of their pastor for the whole Church, as well as for his closeness. I think the Pope’s visit re-affirms the New Evangelization which the whole Church needs to continue carrying out. It is a visit that will have social and ecclesial repercussions.

ZENIT: What is the meaning of the places where the Pope will go?

Father Leal: The Mass which will open in Silao, at the foot of the mountain of Christ the King on Cubilete hill, will be in a very significant place because it is the geographic center of the whole nation. And because that image of Christ is a symbol of the Christian faith which was placed there after the Cristero War and which reminds us of the difficult events our country went through and the faith for which so many people shed their blood. It is significant because it is a reaffirmation of faith and will be an invitation to Christian witness that we must all give.

Father Flores: It is also a National Eucharistic Center of perpetual adoration, because all day long laypeople go there and take turns in perpetual adoration.

ZENIT: What is the state of religious liberty in Mexico?

Father Flores: The subject must be understood in its historical perspective. The Church’s relationship with the Mexican State has not been easy for historical circumstances which are easy to understand and which the bishops illustrated in their Pastoral Letter of 2000 entitled “”From the Encounter with Jesus Christ to Solidarity with All.” The progress that has been made in the matter of religious liberty is important but not sufficient, given that our legislation does not meet the measure of many civilized countries of the world, which give religious liberty the place it has in human rights. There was an important Constitutional reform in Mexico, which assumes human rights as the basis and foundation of national legislation; it is a reform that has just been approved. However, the step from what was previously called “individual guarantees” which the State grants, to the recognition of human rights, is essential and inserted in that whole is the right of religious liberty. There is a series of steps that is being debated and which the Congress already approved on some topics but which the Senate has yet to approve, especially in taking steps not only for religious liberty in general, but for the liberty of the Catholic Church in some fields such as education, communications, public expression of ideas, where there is intense debate. Here we are asked for some historical patience, not to speed up, although we must be firm we must also convince without irritating, as Newman said, in order not to polarize and not to set feelings on edge which are very respectable, which perhaps we do not share, but which might have an historical basis.

ZENIT: There is a subject that is always talked about, which refers to popular religiosity in Mexico. How can one ensure that this does not take the faithful away from the central focus of the faith?

Father Yael: It is an element of which we make use, because popular religiosity is not a negative element in the very process of growth of the faithful. Rather, it is an expression we take advantage of to integrate them even more on this journey of faith, so that it is not dislocated, but part of their journey and so that they learn to mature in their faith.

Father Flores: I think popular religiosity must be understood as the living of the Gospel with the simplicity of the men and women who do not ask many questions and give God their faith in a simple way. I think that it is above all an opportunity to present the news of the Gospel by touching the life of the community, which expresses itself in a simple way with songs, prayers, cyclical customs, because everything that is expressed is related to life. And as we have been taught since Vatican II, Puebla and up to Aparecida, we must recognize what is genuine and valuable in popular religiosity, but also purify it, because within it there can be distortions and an effect that is contrary to what is sought in genuine religiosity.

ZENIT: And what is the origin of the “devotion” to “Santa Muerte” (holy death), which is now popular in some parts of Mexico?

Father Leal: It is neither a Christian nor a Catholic devotion. I would describe it as a pseudo-devotion that often — not always — is linked to drug trafficking, to violence and which is lost in the popular expression of the faith and removes itself from the content of the Gospel and what the Church points out about worship. There is no war against the followers of a holy death; rather, the Church has pointed out, through the bishops, that it is a form of worship that does not correspond to the Christian faith – which must worship and adore God alone — in order to place the topic of death in the Christian context.

Father Yael: We must be careful about the deformation of the faith in Mexico and other places. Because the subject of the mistakenly called holy death, does not correspond to the promotion of the good news of Jesus Christ, which is promotion of life. Hence we must be attentive to what corresponds to our faith, to what deforms and clouds it. It is a delicate issue which we must be able to distinguish with our people, to identify what corresponds to our faith and separate that which is on the margin so as not to confuse it with the Christian faith.

ZENIT: What message can you give readers who are preparing for the Pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba?

Father Leal: We must be very attentive to the Pope’s visit to our country and focus on the center of the event which is the Pope and his message, listening to it in all its richness, as a message of hope that encourages us to continue the work of evangelization . And I also ask that we remain united in prayer so that this trip will take place without setbacks, and so that the Holy Spirit will work in the Pope and in his message.

Father Yael: We must give ourselves the opportunity to hear him and we will discover how he cuts across many dimensions of our interior, family and national life. And afterwards, to ask ourselves: what follows next in my personal, family and ecclesial commitment and with my people of Mexico?

Father Flores: An image caught my attention of a
visit of the Pope, in which some young men were wearing their soccer T-shirts and printed on the back was the name Benedict and the number 16. That would be the message, especially for young people. To wear Benedict XVI’s T-shirt and to share together our hopes, expectations and fears in order to strengthen one another. And to feel that the Pope is someone from our home who is coming to be with us, so that the environment we can create of prayer and of a good community atmosphere will be very important. During the visit we must be very careful to listen, because unlike with John Paul II, who fascinated people just by seeing him, in Pope Benedict XVI’s case, they like to hear him. And this is so because being such an intelligent man – and there are already those who describe him as a Father of the Church –, he speaks to us with wisdom and profundity, but at the same time with a simplicity that is able to illumine and give reason for our hope even in the most difficult situations of the life of the Church and of society. After his visit, we must be very careful because we will receive light on the building of peace, the surmounting of poverty and inequality, as well as on the topic of the Continental Mission and the impulse of the New Evangelization.

And for brother priests it is a good opportunity to strengthen our vocation. I am taken aback by what I read in some newspapers in Mexico which instrumentalize the visit and I wonder: who can be afraid of an 85-year-old man? His vitality says much to us, priests, and his faithfulness to his ministry. With a huge weight on his shoulders, he has a discipline of life: he gives time to prayer, to rest, to walk, to read, to write, to play the piano, as well as to receive in audience countless numbers of people who want to see him, or to attend to affairs of the Curia and of the government of the Church. I think no priest could have a pretext not to do the same, and in addition he can give a great horizon to our ministry on two topics: love and truth.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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