The youth of today need to cling to the wisdom of their elders, pontiff says
The indigenous people of southern Mexico have been misunderstood and excluded from society because “some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior,” Pope Francis said Monday, while “others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends have stolen your lands or contaminated them.”
And yet today’s world, “ravaged as it is by a throwaway culture, needs you,” he told a gathering for Mass at the municipal sports center in San Cristóbal de las Casas. The sports centre can hold up to 100,000 people. Some groups came from neighboring Guatemala.
On his third full day in Mexico, Francis called for an examination of conscience on how the indigenous populations have been treated.
The indigenous communities live in extreme poverty; most do not have access to drinking water, and much of their land has been seized by the central government. Indians living in urban areas are often subject to racism; they struggle to find decent work and often have no access to health care services. Their traditions and culture are not recognized, and their languages are not studied in any state-recognized school.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was born in 1983. It was behind the uprising of January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico came into force. Seven of Chiapas’ municipalities were symbolically occupied for one night, and in most cases this involved the military being disarmed without any gunshots being fired. However, clashes were witnessed in some inhabited areas. One of the cities that came under siege was San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where Subcomandante Marcos read out the first declaration on the rights of the indigenous people. The rebels retreated the next day, but the EZLN won a major political victory, gaining international visibility and appeal, thereby staving off violent retaliations by the federal army.
In his homily, Pope Francis repeated a phrase from the Responsorial Psalm for the day, quoting it in the indigenous language “Li smantal Kajvaltike too lek,” “The law of the Lord is perfect, it revives the soul.” He recalled that “the people of Israel received from the hand of Moses a law that would help the people of God to live in the freedom to which they were called.” The Israelites “experienced slavery and the Pharaoh’s tyranny, endured suffering and oppression to the point where God said, ‘Enough! No more!’”
The pope went on to quote the Popol Vuh, an indigenous text: “The dawn rises on all of the tribes together. The face of the earth was immediately healed by the sun.”
“The sun rose for the people who at various times have walked in the midst of history’s darkest moments,” he said. “In this expression, one hears the yearning to live in freedom; there is a longing which contemplates a promised land where oppression, mistreatment and humiliation are not the currency of the day. In the heart of man and in the memory of many of our peoples is imprinted this yearning for a land, for a time when human corruption will be overcome by fraternity, when injustice will be conquered by solidarity and when violence will be silenced by peace.”
Francis said that “in many ways there have been attempts to silence and dull this yearning, and in many ways there have been efforts to anaesthetize our soul, and in many ways there have been endeavours to subdue and lull our children and young people into a kind of lassitude by suggesting that nothing can change, that their dreams can never come true.
“Faced with these attempts, creation itself also raises an objection,” he went on. “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”
Francis stressed: “We can no longer remain silent before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history. In this regard, you have much to teach us. Your peoples, as the bishops of Latin America have recognized, know how to interact harmoniously with nature, which they respect as a ‘source of food, a common home and an altar of human sharing.’”
And yet this tradition and culture have been all but wiped out. “On many occasions, in a systematic and organized way,” Francis said, “your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society. Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them.
“How sad this is!” Francis remarked. “How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!’ Today’s world, ravaged as it is by a throwaway culture, needs you. … Exposed to a culture that seeks to suppress all cultural heritage and features in pursuit of a homogenized world, the youth of today need to cling to the wisdom of their elders! Today’s world, overcome by convenience, needs to learn anew the value of gratitude!”
At the end of the Mass, a representative of the indigenous communities thanked “jTatik” Francisco “for visiting us even though many despise us. You came here and acknowledged us, as Our Lady of Guadalupe did with Juan Dieguito.”
“Carry us and our culture in your heart,” he continued, “with our joy and sufferings, with the injustices we suffer. … Even though you live far away, in Rome, we feel you very close to us. Keep on passing the joy of the Gospel on to us, and continue to help us to protect our sister and mother earth, which the Lord has given us.”
Reprinted with permission from Vatican Insider.