By Omar Arcega
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, MARCH 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A city on Mexico’s northern border is the world’s deadliest city not in a war zone, with 2,660 people killed there last year alone.
But Ciudad Juarez — across the river from El Paso — is home to more than just warring drug cartels. It is also the home of a local Church that “does not accept the culture of death” and is aware of its mission to be “promoters of life.”
ZENIT spoke with Bishop Renato Ascencio León about his ministry in the midst of so much violence and death.
ZENIT: What impact has violence had on religious practice?
Bishop León: Violence has caused great concern. We are part of a society and this climate of insecurity has united us; the death of these youths [15 young people with no apparent links to organized crime were killed at a party in January] was the detonator to become aware of the reality we are living. As the one responsible for this diocesan community, I can tell you that the Church does not accept the culture of death that installed itself in the city a long time ago. We must be promoters of life. In face of the incident of the murdered youths, we have wished to give a word of hope to those who live in fear.
ZENIT: Are the people afraid to attend Mass?
Bishop León: No. They know against whom the attacks are directed. Though there can be innocent people in the line of these criminal bullets, they are not directed to people of peace and legality. People come to worship. Proof of this was Ash Wednesday; the churches were full of faithful receiving ashes until late at night.
ZENIT: Did the Church participate in any of the dialogue meetings?
Bishop León: Participation was at two levels: First we met with representatives of other faiths and we discussed and contributed proposals. Then we participated in a meeting the first time the president came: I spoke about what we reflected on within meetings of the Catholic Church.
ZENIT: What were these reflections?
Bishop León: We analyzed the cause of this climate of violence. The origin of this situation of violence has its root in the first place in poverty and injustice. Here we distinguished several causes: 1. The loss of employment on the border; many people who came with the hope of finding dignified work found it but between the violence and the economic crisis many businesses closed. 2. The disintegration of the family: Parents have to go out to work, the children are not looked after and they grow up without guidance, many of them will be dissatisfied in their homes and will seek a remedy to their frustrations elsewhere. 3. School drop-outs; beginning with middle school, studies are abandoned, many of these young people will have few opportunities to find legal employment and could end up in illegality. 4. The lack of spaces to develop the interests youth have: sports, and artistic and recreational activities.
ZENIT: Has the army helped in Ciudad Juarez?
Bishop León: We cannot speak of what-ifs, that is, we cannot say how we would be without the army. I don’t think it is the most suitable for military personnel to carry out police work, but in the face of an emergency it has an important role and in Ciudad Juarez we are living an extraordinary situation, a real emergency. This does not mean that we agree with the abuses the armed forces might be committing with some people. In this regard, many have complained and have expressed this to the president of the republic. I wish to make it clear: We agree that in an emergency, the army must protect the security of the citizens and we will never agree with the abuses that might take place.
ZENIT: Are your priests victims of the climate of violence?
Bishop León: Of course, without going further back, last week one of my priests was assaulted and threatened.
ZENIT: Is there something you would like to add for our readers?
Bishop León: That they pray to the Lord that this situation will end and that peace and tranquility will return to Ciudad Juarez. We lived in peace in this border city. Many people of the center and south of the republic made their lives here. Juarez is part of Mexico, that is why we ask that they help us by praying for peace. Also that they see what is happening on the border, that they make an effort to nourish values in youth so that they will not have to live in a situation such as ours, which we hope will end soon.
[Translation by ZENIT]