Pope Francis flew back to Rome yesterday after completing a five-day visit to Mexico, where he made stops in Mexico City, the State of México, Chiapas, Michoacán and the border city of Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua.
But unlike most international papal visits, in which criticisms are generally subtle, Francis went a little beyond the traditional, according to some observers, one of whom said it was clear that he feels both the church and the government have failed Mexicans.
“The pope literally believes the devil walks free in Mexico, cultivating death, misery and resignation, and he believes the state, the church and the narcos have been accomplices in that,” Andrew Chesnut, director of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, told The Associated Press.
“He believes that Mexico, with the second largest Catholic population in the world, is in the midst of an acute moral and political crisis, and the church needs to turn itself into an active agent for constructing a more just Mexico.”
Francis spoke to the country’s bishops on Saturday with a 4,500-word address described as “remarkable” by an editor of the Catholic publication Crux. John Allen wrote that the pope has judged that Mexico’s 170 bishops are not altogether up to snuff.
His message was that in a broken and hurting world the church’s best response is not power or privilege, institutional heft or political maneuvers but personal integrity and closeness to the victims of a “throwaway culture,” wrote Allen.
Although the pope acknowledged the bishops’ efforts on behalf of migrants, he asked that they be genuine shepherds and not confine themselves to generic condemnations.
“We do not need princes,” the pope said, “but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses.”
He invited the bishops “to give yourselves tirelessly and fearlessly to the task of evangelizing and deepening the faith.”
AP reported that Francis’ messages were welcomed by Mexican citizens. Said one: “He is a pope who hits them where it hurts.”