Pope Francis

(News.va) On February 15, 2016, the Holy Father arrived shortly after 9 a.m. local time (4.10 p.m. in Rome) at Tuxtla Gutierrez, capital of the state of Chiapas.

Given its high growth rate the city, usually referred to as Tuxtla, is one of the poles of attraction for clandestine immigration both from bordering Guatemala and other Latin American countries.

Chiapas is Mexico's southernmost state and, despite is great wealth of natural resources, it is one of the poorest with the lowest life expectancy. Thirty per cent of its four and a half million inhabitants speak the indigenous language only, and the past oppression of the indigenous population was in 1868 the cause of the rebellion that came close to conquering Tuxtla. The state is also the stronghold of the Zapatista movement (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), established in 1983 to demand respect for the rights of indigenous populations and the recognition of their culture, and to claim control of local resources, especially land. The Zapatistas set aside their weapons in 1994 and moved to the political sphere through a strategy of civil resistance and the use of communications media. The popular basis of the movement is constituted principally of the inhabitants of rural areas and the Maya indigenous populations.

From Tuxtla Gutierrez the Pope transferred by helicopter to San Cristobal de las Casas, considered the cultural capital of Chiapas. The city, founded in 1528 and named first "Villareal" and subsequently "Ciudad Real", over time adopted the name of the state's patron saint, Cristobal, and added "de Las Casas" in honour of Fr. Bartolome de Las Casas, the first bishop of Ciudad Real from 1554 to 1566 and defender of the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Pope was received by Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas, and celebrated the Eucharist in the municipal sports centre, able to hold a hundred thousand people. The majority of the faithful were indigenous people from throughout the whole of the state of Chiapas and the celebration was held not only in Spanish but also in the tseltal, ch'ol and tsotil languages, in accordance with a decree approved by Francis for the occasion, enabling the use of indigenous languages in the liturgy.

In his homily, the Holy Father recalled the liberation of the People of Israel from the tyranny of the Pharaoh, and their yearning to live in freedom in the promised land "where oppression, mistreatment and humiliation are not the currency of the day". He cited the Popol Vuh (Book of Wisdom) which recounts the Mayan myth of creation, according to which "The dawn rises on all of the tribes together", as well as on the earth itself, which demands respect and is instead "among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor", leading to the current environmental crisis, one of the gravest in the history of our planet. The Pope praised the wisdom of the indigenous populations, and reaffirmed that they have much to teach humanity on account of the harmony of their relationship with nature, and he asked their forgiveness for the many times throughout history that they have been misunderstood, excluded and robbed of their lands, values, cultures and traditions.

"Li smantal Kajvaltike toj lek – the law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul. Thus begins the psalm we have just heard", said the Pope. "The law of the Lord is perfect and the psalmist diligently lists everything that the law offers to those who hear and follow it: it revives the soul, it gives wisdom to the simple, it gladdens the heart, and it gives light to the eyes. This is the law which 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. A law intended to be a light for the journey and to accompany the pilgrimage of his people. A people who experienced slavery and the Pharaoh’s tyranny, who endured suffering and oppression to the point where God said, “Enough! No more! I have seen their affliction, I have heard their cry, I know their sufferings”. And here the true face of God is seen, the face of the Father Who suffers as He sees the pain, mistreatment, and lack of justice for His children. His word, His law, thus becomes a symbol of freedom, a symbol of happiness, wisdom and light. It is an experience, a reality which is conveyed by a phrase prayed in Popol Vuh and born of the wisdom accumulated in these lands since time immemorial: '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".

"In this expression"; he continued, "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. Our Father not only shares this longing, but has Himself inspired it and continues to do so in giving us His son Jesus Christ. In Him we discover the solidarity of the Father Who walks by our side. In Him, we see how the perfect law takes flesh, takes a human face, shares our history so as to walk with and sustain His people. He becomes the Way, He becomes the Truth, He becomes the Life, so that darkness may not have the last word and the dawn may not cease to rise on the lives of His sons and daughters".

"In many ways, and in many forms, there have been attempts to silence and dull this yearning, and in many ways there have been efforts to anaesthetise 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: '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. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she groans in travail. The environmental challenge that we are experiencing and its human causes, affects us all and demands our response. 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, much to teach humanity", emphasised the Pope. "Your peoples, as the bishops of Latin America have recognised, 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, on many occasions, in a systematic and organized way, 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! How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, 'forgive me!', 'forgive me, brothers and sisters!' 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 homogenised world, the youth of today, these youth, need to cling to the wisdom of their elders. Today’s world, overcome by convenience, needs to learn anew the value of gratitude".

"We rejoice in the certainty that 'The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us'. We rejoice that Jesus continues to die and rise again in each gesture that we offer to the least of our brothers and sisters. Let us be resolved to be witnesses to his Passion and his Resurrection, by giving flesh to these words: Li smantal Kajvaltike toj lek – the law of the Lord is perfect and comforts the soul", he concluded.

At the end of the Mass a representative of the indigenous communities addressed "Tatik Francisco" to thank him for his visit. "Thank you for visiting us. Although many people disregard us, you wanted to come here and have thought of us, as Our Lady of Guadalupe did with St. Juan Dieguito. May you carry in your heart our culture, our joys and sufferings, the injustices we have suffered. … Although you live far away from us, in Rome, we feel that you are very close to us. May you continue to inspire us with the joy of the Gospel, and help us to care for our sister and mother Earth, that God has given to us. And thank you for having again authorised the role of the indigenous permanent diaconate, with its own culture, and for having approved the use of our languages in the liturgy".

After the Eucharistic celebration the Pope transferred to the episcopal curia where he lunched with eight representatives of the indigenous populations. He subsequently visited the cathedral dedicated to the Assumption, built between 1500 and 1600, where he was awaited by a group of elderly and sick people with whom he spoke at length. He also paused to pray by the tomb of Msgr. Samuel Ruiz, who died in 2011, and who served as bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas for forty years, during which he was greatly esteemed by the indigenous communities of Chiapas.