Pope’s historic visit to Mexico splits public opinion
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Pope’s historic visit to Mexico splits public opinion

On his visit to Chiapas, Monday, Pope Francis inspired many by denouncing the centuries-long exploitation of the country’s native population and praying before the tomb of the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a local priest who famously defended the cause of the Zapatistas in the 1990s.

Roughly 75 percent of the population of Chiapas live in poverty and adherence to Catholicism among the indigenous community is believed to be in decline. It was a clear attempt by the Pontiff to reach out to the poor and marginalized on a six-day trip to five Mexican states that has been notable for its attention to social justice and human rights.

On Sunday, Francis visited the city of Ecatepec in Mexico State, a municipality plagued by gang violence, decrying the “traffickers of death” operating within the country’s deadly narcotics trade. On Tuesday he met with heads of the state of Michoacán where locals took up arms to combat powerful drug cartels in 2013.

In Mexico City Saturday, Pope Francis urged that Mexican politicians refrain from putting personal gain above the “good of all,” widely viewed as a reference to the various corruption scandals that have plagued the country in recent years.

A mixed response

Yet among Mexican society, the response to the Pope’s visit has been mixed with some seeing it as an opportunity to shed light on graft, poverty, and human rights abuses, and others viewing the trip as a carefully-choreographed public relations exercise.

While 84 percent of Mexicans self-identify as Catholic, only 46 percent are practising, and the country has had a fiercely secular constitution for decades.

Writing in national daily El Universal, columnist Raymundo Rivas Palacio stated: “The visit of Pope Francis to Mexico began with a contradiction. This humblest Pope, publicly committed to those who have least, was received Friday by a VIP carnival of 5,000 people… drawing a picture of a country of privilege.”

Elsewhere, citizens shared memes on social media poking fun at the pomp and ceremony of the visit, and criticizing the country’s politicians for falling over themselves to be seen with the Pontiff.

Some have commented on the relatively small crowds that turned out to see the Pope in Mexico City, yet in Ecatepec, Francis drew 300,000 to an open-air Mass.

“Different parts of the country have more interest in the Pope than others,” David Velasco, a professor at the Jesuit University of Guadalajara, told Latin Correspondent.

“Clearly, in Ecatepec or Chiapas, where there is such suffering and impunity, the crowds will be bigger.”

Many others believe that the Pope’s visit may yet have a positive impact on the many problems facing Mexico, a country that has seen some 150,000 violent homicides since 2007.

“Just by visiting these states and interacting with the poor and marginalized, it will help bring attention to their plight,” said Magdalena Suárez, a mother-of-three who spent eight hours waiting in Mexico City to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff. “He’s brought hope to the country.”

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