Bishop Felipe Arizmendi of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, and Auxiliary Bishop Enrique Díaz Díaz were received by the Holy Father on Thursday in the Vatican. ZENIT met with them and asked them to share with our readers their impressions of that meeting and something about the situation of their diocese. Here is what they had to say.
“We came to Rome to speak with Pope Francis and some of his collaborators, with several Congregations, such as that of Divine Worship, of the Clergy, of the Bishops, and on Friday with that of the Doctrine of the Faith,” said Bishop Arizmendi, adding, “We have interpreted the fact that they gave us the appointment with the Pope on December 12, day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a gift from the Virgin and her intercession for the Indians.”
“The Pope received us with much affection and much understanding. He is recovering from the flu, but has a truly incredible enthusiasm and desire to serve and to work. He was very cordial,” said the Bishop from Chiapas.
On Thursday, when he received me, he said: “’Do you remember that you were in Buenos Aires giving us some conferences on the subject of ministry to the [indigenous] populations?’”
The bishop explained that when the future Pontiff was president of the episcopal conference, he went there to share the experiences they’d found in Mexico.
“The Pope is familiar with the subject we presented to him,” Bishop Arizmendi continued. “We pointed out to the Holy Father the question of the Indians, because in our homeland, specifically in Chiapas, there are many and they belong to five main ethnic groups. And among the poor, the Indians are poor, very poor.”
“These people not only have their own language, but they also have their customs, their rites, their symbols and their dress. And in addition there are dialects or regionalisms within each language. An important point, however, is that there are no ethnic rivalries among them,” specified the Auxiliary Bishop.
“When we are with them — referring to the Indians — we enter another world, another culture; our responsibility is not to destroy it but, on the contrary, to know it, to respect it and to appreciate it. That is why we have brought to Rome — to the Congregation for Divine Worship — the request for the authorization of the Mass in the two main languages, Tzotzil and Tzeltal, which was already approved by the Mexican Episcopal Conference with its Bible, Liturgy, Culture, Indian and Doctrine of the Faith Commissions.”
He specified that the Bible is already translated into Txeltal and we are translating it into Tzotzil.
“In these regions we celebrate in their languages. We now seek the definitive approval, ‘the reconitio’ of something that has been purified,” pointed out Bishop Diaz Diaz, adding that confessions are also carried out in local languages.
The bishops explained that at present, of the 66 seminarians, 32 are Indians, and there are six Indian priests. The Rector of the Seminary is an Indian and at the University they pointed out that “he is one of the most brilliant students we have had.’”
The Pope was very pleased with this news. Moreover, we presented him with the
In regard to the Ordination of new permanent deacons of Indian origin, Monsignor Arizmendi said that “we were looking at the possibility of ordaining more permanent deacons; at present we have just over 300, all are married except one. They are trained agents close to their culture; they speak in their language and know the life of their peoples.”
“When I arrived there were some 360 and the Holy See considered that there were too many deacons vis-s-vis the number of priests. But God has blessed us with more priests and from the 66 there were 13 years ago, we now have 98 and they are increasingly of native origin. We also have more than 60 seminarians, all from Chiapas and some from the neighboring state that are already integrated,” recalled the Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas.
Pope Francis is much loved by the population, he said, noting that “they regard him with much affection and much hope, we have certainly perceived this everywhere.” Moreover, he continued, “To my mind Pope Benedict is a monument, because of his simplicity, his closeness and his affection. We all agreed he looks in a person’s eyes, and knows what he is saying and understands him. The same is said of the previous Pontiffs, but they have different styles, although the background does not change.”
In regard to the subjects most important for ministry in Mexico, the bishop explained that “as we will have our ad limina visits in May, we did not want to anticipate them but they are drug trafficking, violence and poverty. Violence has very much affected not only tourism, which is a source of wealth,