Pope turns attention to Mexico's drug heartland

MEXICO CITY -- Pope Francis heads into the heart of Mexico's drug-trafficking country Tuesday for meetings with young people, whom he is holding up as the hope for a better future for a country wracked by the violence and gang warfare of the drug trade.

See Full Article

Francis' visit to Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state, a hotbed of narcotics production and smuggling, will also give him a chance to send a message about his vision for the future of the Mexican church.

Last year, Francis made a cardinal out of Morelia Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda, one of several "peripheral" bishops elevated to the highest ranks of the church's governance.

Like the pope, Suarez Inda has called for Mexico's church leaders to put aside their comfortable lives and become pastors with the "smell of their sheep." It's a famous phrase of the pope's about the need for bishops to accompany their flock closely through life's ups and downs.

Since beginning his Mexico trip Friday night, Francis has repeatedly taken to task the Mexican church leadership, many of whom have been reluctant to criticize the wealthy and powerful elite to whom they have close ties.

On Saturday in Mexico City, he scolded what he called gossiping, career-minded and aloof clerics, and admonished them to stand by their flock and offer "prophetic courage" in facing down the drug trade. In an inscription in a seminary guestbook, he urged future priests to be pastors of God instead of "clerics of the state."

The pope's stop in Morelia signals that he fully backs Suarez Inda's pastoral program and holds him up as a model for other clerics to emulate.

In 2013, at what was perhaps the height of the violence in Michoacan, Suarez Inda led eight other bishops in signing an unusually outspoken letter accusing government authorities of "complicity, forced or willing," with criminal gangs. It urged priests to "do whatever is in your power" to help people in an atmosphere of kidnappings, killings and extortion and to "carry out concrete actions in favor of peace and reconciliation."

Suarez Inda clearly backs Francis' ideas about the role of clerics in contemporary Mexico, echoing the pope's admonition that "pastors should not be bureaucrats and we bishops should not have the mentality or attitude of princes."

The pope "shakes up the conscience of priests in order that we not be mediocre, installed priests who simply seek social promotion, but rather that we truly live our calling to serve the people with great generosity," Suarez Inda told the Mexican newspaper El Universal last month.

Suarez Inda was also part of a group of clergy from Michoacan and neighboring Guerrero state who prepared a report on Mexico's drug violence last year that he said left Francis "very shocked and impressed."

Francis may outline more of his vision for the church during a Mass celebrated with clerics, seminarians and nuns at a stadium.

But the day's highlight could come in his final event, a gathering of Mexican youth. Francis often speaks off the cuff when meeting with young people, and he will almost certainly touch on the drug problem.

Much of Michoacan is part of a region called Tierra Caliente, or the Hot Lands, known for both its blistering temperatures and brutal tactics by gangsters eager to control lucrative drug-production territory and smuggling routes.

By 2013, the pseudo-religious, evangelical-inspired Knights Templar cartel was widely kidnapping and extorting money and dominating the state's economic and political scene so much that local farmers took up arms against them. But the uprising by the vigilante-style "self-defense" forces brought little peace to the state, with the groups fighting among themselves even as new criminal gangs sprang up or tried to muscle their way into Michoacan, a big source of methamphetamine production.

"I'm excited about the pope's visit, but the reality is that people are afraid. Right now there is a festive atmosphere and a lot of police, but in the day-to-day it's not that calm. Crime has risen," said Yulisa Duran, an 18-year-old nursing student sitting with her boyfriend in Morelia's main square.

"I lived in a tiny town that was very gentle, and then the (cartel) came in," Duran added.

On Monday, Francis denounced centuries-old exploitation and exclusion of Mexico's indigenous people in the southern state of Chiapas and said the world can learn from their traditions.

"Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior," he said. "Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them."

He called for a collective "Forgive me."

In San Cristobal de las Casas, Francis celebrated a Mass that featured readings in native Mayan languages. He also made a point of praying before the tomb of Bishop Samuel Ruiz, who ministered to Mexico's poorest and supported the controversial practice of blending their indigenous culture into Catholic rituals.

-----

Associated Press writers Jacobo Garcia in Morelia and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Syrian refugee thanks Canada for 'amazing' two years

    Canada News CTV News
    Two "amazing" years have passed since Syrian refugee Najeeb Al Masri and his family arrived in Canada from Turkey. The engineering student spoke with CTV News Channel Sunday about the challenges of adjusting to life in Toronto, where he landed with his family in December 2015. Source
  • Snow in the GTA expected to cause traffic headaches during Monday afternoon rush hour

    Canada News CTV News
    Southern Ontario’s first dose of snowfall is expected to cause some headaches for afternoon commuters Monday. Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for every district in southern Ontario except for Algonquin and Renfrew-Pembroke-Barry’s Bay. Source
  • Maritime Link sends first electricity between Newfoundland, Nova Scotia

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- For the first time, electricity has been sent between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia through the new Maritime Link. The 500-megawatt transmission line was tested Friday, but won't go into commercial operation until early in the New Year. Source
  • Former Georgian president Saakashvili appears in court in Ukraine

    World News CTV News
    KIEV, Ukraine -- Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president turned opposition leader in Ukraine, appeared in court Monday in the Ukrainian capital for a hearing on whether he should continue to be held in custody. Source
  • Putin lands in Egypt in sign of growing ties

    World News CTV News
    CAIRO -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his second visit to Egypt in as many years, held talks Monday with his Egyptian counterpart on their countries' rapidly expanding ties. Egypt's general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has visited Russia three times since the ouster of his Islamist predecessor in 2013. Source
  • Putin visits Egypt in sign of growing ties

    World News CTV News
    CAIRO -- Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Egypt on Monday, where he signed a deal to advance plans for a nuclear reactor but disappointed his hosts by delaying the resumption of direct flights that were suspended after the 2015 bombing of a Russian passenger plane. Source
  • LIVE UPDATES: Garnier's defence lawyer argues Campbell died accidentally during rough sex

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- Christopher Garnier has taken the stand at his trial in the death of off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell. His lawyer opened the defence case this morning by saying Campbell died accidentally during rough sex. Source
  • LIVE UPDATES: Garnier tells Halifax murder trial off-duty cop asked him to choke her

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- Christopher Garnier says Catherine Campbell coaxed him into choking her during sex play, and urged him to apply more pressure before she died. Garnier is on the stand today at his trial in the off-duty police officer's death; his lawyer opened the defence case by telling the jury Campbell died accidentally during rough sex. Source
  • Cryptocurrency fraud doubled to $1.7M in Canada this year

    Canada News CBC News
    Canadians have been swindled out of than $1.7 million via scams involving cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin so far this year — more than double the amount during all of 2016. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says that's more than five times the amount people lost to these types of scams in 2015, which was roughly $284,000. Source
  • Everything you always wanted to know about somebody else's God in 15 minutes

    Canada News CBC News
    The bell rings and groups of people spring to their feet. It's time for the next table. Pat Simpson just finished talking with a woman about Islam and now wants a seat at the Bahá'í table. Source