Mexico is preparing to receive Pope John Paul the Second on his first foreign tour since being elected Pontiff in October last year.
Mexico is preparing to receive Pope John Paul the Second on his first foreign tour since being elected Pontiff in October last year. The Pope will spend six days visiting several Mexican cities and is to open the third South American Episcopal Council's (CELAM) conference in the eastern city of Puebla on Saturday (27 January). Several important issues effecting the role of the Catholic Church in South America are highlighted by the visit. It is only the second time a Pope has been to South America -- Pope Paul the Sixth visited Colombia in 1968. Mexico is the only country in the entre continent which does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican -- and the CELAM conference is to deal with Crucial issue of whether the Church should involve itself in the politics of the region or retain an essentially evangelical role.
SYNOPSIS: The conference in Puebla, which lies 160 kilometres (about 100 miles) east of Mexico City will bring together three-hundred and fifty delegates from twenty-two countries in South America as well as observers from the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. The clash between conservative Catholics wanting to isolate religion from the state and progressives, wishing to see the Church taking an active role in political and social life, could have repercussions on the future of the entire Roman Catholic Church.
When the Bishops met here, the general subject of the Church's sphere of influence will be emphasised by a recent incident. Throughout the past ten years, many South American Catholic priests have become actively involved in political movements. Last week San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Arnuflo Romero excommunicated government troops blamed....for killing five people including a priest. The Archbishop claimed they were attending religious instruction classes, described by the authorities as a subversive meeting.
The Pope will inaugurate the conference by celebrating Mass at the Basilica of Guadeloupe about seven kilometres (4 miles) from Mexico City centre. The church marks the place where an Indian convert had a vision of the Virgin Mary almost five hundred years ago. The beautiful original building, which was constantly visited by pilgrims, was declared unsafe by experts four years ago and a new shrine has been built alongside the old. Mexico cut diplomatic ties with the Vatican more than a century ago, when constitutional reforms attacked the wealth and power of the Catholic Church in the country.
During his visit the Pope will stay in this house in Mexico City. The presence of this particular Pontiff, who has already said he does not want the Church to interfere with politics, will be a vital factor during the CELAM conference. Many South American bishops are committed to radical changes in the Vatican's role. The Brazilian Cardinal Aloisio Loirscheider, one of the three Presidents of the conference, has warned that violence could erupt in the region unless economic reforms are made. He pointed out that the injustices of the social and political systems of South America were directly related to the Church, since an estimated three hundred million of the world's seven hundred million Catholics lived in the region.