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.


Latest Canada & World News

  • N.L. premier, aboriginal leaders make progress after Muskrat Falls meeting

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Premier Dwight Ball met for more than 10 hours with indigenous leaders as protesters continued to besiege the delayed Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador. Ball says the province and leaders from the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government and the NunatuKavut Community Council made significant progress in resolving issues surrounding planned flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir. Source
  • Gambia becomes third country to announce departure from ICC

    World News CTV News
    DAKAR, Senegal - A third African country, Gambia, says it will leave the International Criminal Court as fears grow of a mass pullout from the body that pursues some of the world's worst atrocities. Gambia announced the decision on television Tuesday night, accusing the court of unfairly targeting Africa and calling it the "International Caucasian Court. Source
  • Aboriginal, environmental groups to sue Canada over Petronas LNG project

    Canada News CBC News
    Aboriginal and environmental groups will file lawsuits on Thursday against the government of Canada to overturn the permit for a controversial $27 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in British Columbia. The lawsuits will name Malaysian state oil firm Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas), which owns a majority stake in the project, as an associated party, representatives of the aboriginal and environmental groups told Reuters this week. Source
  • Vatican Cardinal George Pell questioned by police over historic abuse allegations

    World News CBC News
    Australian police flew to Rome to interview a top Vatican cardinal about allegations of sexual assault dating back decades, officials said Wednesday. Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis's top financial adviser and one of his most trusted aides, has long been dogged by allegations he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney. Source
  • Aussie man charged with attempted murder in Miranda Kerr home attack

    World News CBC News
    Los Angeles prosecutors have charged an Australian man in an attack on a security guard outside supermodel Miranda Kerr's home earlier this month. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office says 29-year-old Shaun Anthony Haywood was charged with attempted murder, aggravated mayhem and assault with a deadly weapon on Tuesday. Source
  • Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, cardinal questioned over sex allegations

    World News Toronto Sun
    SYDNEY, Australia — Australian police flew to Rome to interview a top Vatican cardinal about allegations of sexual assault dating back decades, officials said Wednesday. Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser and one of his most trusted aides, has long been dogged by allegations he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney. Source
  • L.A. man with arsenal charged with making threats to Islamic centre

    World News CBC News
    A Los Angeles man found with multiple weapons and hundreds of pounds of ammunition in his home was charged with making terrorist threats to the Islamic Center of Southern California, authorities announced Tuesday. Mark Lucian Feigin was arrested last week on the charge, which has been designated as a hate crime, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Source
  • Homeless sue Denver over sweeps of encampments

    World News Toronto Sun
    DENVER — When Jerry Burton’s sleeping bag and tent were removed by city workers from his campsite near a rapidly developing area close to downtown Denver, he was able to start over again with backup gear he keeps hidden for emergencies — whether his or someone else’s. Source
  • Cold Lake private Christian school shut down over alleged $1 million mismanagement [Video]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    A Christian school board in Cold Lake was shut down Tuesday after financial irregularities were discovered, including directing nearly $1 million to a third party that was allegedly spending public cash on liquor, parties and gift cards. Source
  • Calgary top cop on the defensive, again, after damning 2013 workplace review surfaces

    Canada News CBC News
    Calgary's police chief is on the defensive after a three-year-old workplace review has surfaced showing a culture of bullying, harassment, intimidation and retaliation. The 29-page redacted document outlines a police service that some viewed as an "Old Boys Network," including interviews which revealed instances of workplace bullying and harassment involving men and women. Source