Hypocrisy has never been far from the juncture of religion, politics and business.
Popes have dealt with hypocritical and corrupt rulers from diverse nations for centuries. In fact, throughout its history, the Church has been supported by unsavory characters and regimes.
Mexico’s business leaders, many of them ardent believers who donate significant money and time to the Vatican, uphold a political system steeped in corruption and inequality. They are the system.
First Pope of the Americas
Mexico is not just a center of Catholicism but the “cradle” of the Americas; home of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and gateway to millions of Latino Catholics both to the north and south.
The Vatican has pondered for centuries the prizes and perils of dealing with the 2nd largest Catholic nation on earth.
For this Pope in particular – an Argentine and son of Italian immigrants – the trip matters in other ways, many of which are vital to his legacy.
Corruption and ordinary people
Mexicans often joke that on the back of Mexico’s flag appear the words “Si no tranzas, no avanzas” (If you’re not crooked, you don’t get ahead). If this is true, then these same words also appear on Argentina’s flag.
Having grown up and served as a priest for years in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is deeply acquainted with corruption and the abuse of power. He has seen impunity from the front lines. More than any other pontiff, he has traced the roots and causes of corruption; and its corrosive effect on the lives of ordinary people.
Francis reads Mexican newspapers and routinely discusses Mexico’s problems with experts. He harbors few if any illusions about its political culture.
Skepticism by the dispossessed
Despite the Pope’s deep familiarity with the region, nearly every Mexican I know doubts that his visit will change anything.
In the months before his trip, the parents of the 43 college students from Ayotzinapa who disappeared a year and a half ago requested a meeting with him. He refused, but they were invited to a Mass he will hold in Juárez.
Banners have already been raised in the Zócalo imploring the pontiff to visit the state of Guerrero, to see for himself the misery of ordinary Mexicans who must deal with corrupt and often criminal politicians.
“The Pope … is coming to see how institutions have sought to forget the case of our children and leave it in impunity. He will see how drug gangs have infiltrated the government,” said Meliton Ortega, whose son Mauricio is among the 43 students allegedly massacred in Guerrero by cartel members in cahoots with the police and military.
Mexican church speaks out
The Mexican archdiocese recently released a statement saying that the nation now faces “a dark panorama” that will be impossible to hide from Pope Francis.
The church statement claims that even after the nightmare of the “Missing 43”, the state of Guerrero’s remains under siege.
“Not just Acapulco but remote regions are now controlled by crime cartels. Witnesses provide evidence of the horror of (government and military officials) who show little respect for human rights. “
The Pope has referred to this before. “The Mexico of violence, the Mexico of corruption, the Mexico of drug trafficking, the Mexico of cartels, is not the Mexico our Mother wants,” he said in a video released by the Vatican last week.
“Of course I don’t want to cover up any of that. On the contrary, I exhort you to fight every day against corruption, against trafficking, against war, against division, against organized crime, against human smuggling.”
Will the Pope speak out?
Just like he did in both Italy and Argentina, the Pope is expected to condemn drug trafficking, and the disruption it causes to people on both sides of the border.
But how far will he go to address the epidemic of violence in Mexico? To demand that Mexico’s leaders confront impunity?
How much comfort will his message give to families who have lost so much over the years?
These questions represent the Pope’s most difficult test. To a large extent, they will define his visit.
From USA to Nicaragua to Uruguay, millions of Catholics (and others) will be closely monitoring his words.