Pope to Mexico: Have hope, use faith against evil

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 25 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Benedict's reference to immigration resonated in Guanajuato, which is one of the top three Mexican states sending migrant workers north.

"People leave for the good of their families," said Jose Porfirio Garcia Martinez, 56, an indigenous farmworker who came to the Mass with 35 others from Puebla, another area that has many migrants in the U.S. "For us it's difficult, not seeing them for 10 years, communicating by phone and by Internet."

The archbishop of Leon, Monsignor Jose Martin Rabago, told Benedict at the start of Mass that Mexicans needed a message of hope because they have been living in "fear, helplessness and grief" over the mass killings, kidnappings, extortion and other violence stemming from Mexico's drug trade.

"We know that this dramatic reality has perverse origins which are fed by poverty, lack of opportunities, the corruption, the impunity, the poor administration of justice and the cultural change which leads to the belief that this life is only worth living if it allows you to accumulate possessions and power quickly regardless of its consequences and costs," Rabago said.

Benedict wanted to come to Guanajuato because it was one of the parts of Mexico that John Paul II had never visited during his time in Mexico as pope. In addition, Benedict wanted to see and bless the Christ the King statue.

With its outstretched arms, the 72-foot (22-meter) bronze monument of Christ "expresses an identity of the Mexican people that contains a whole history in relation to the testimony of faith and those who fought for religious freedom at the time," said Monsignor Victor Rene Rodriguez, secretary general of the Mexican bishops conference.

Guanajuato state was the site of some of the key battles of the Cristero War, so-called because its protagonists said they were fighting for Christ the King. Historians say about 90,000 people died before peace was restored. The region remains Mexico's most conservatively Catholic.

While the pope drew a rapturous response from the faithful, his trip has not been without criticism, particularly concerning the church's treatment of children and sexual abuse.

Victims of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the influential, conservative Legionaries of Christ religious order, launched a book Saturday containing documents from the Vatican archives showing that Holy See officials knew for decades that Maciel was a drug addict who sexually abused his seminarians.

One of Maciel's most prominent victims, Juan Jose Vaca, followed up on Sunday with an open letter to the pope decrying the fact that he hadn't met with survivors of those abused by Maciel or other clerics, as he has during earlier foreign trips.

"Today, you are honoring the heroic memory of men who gave their lives in defense of their faith and religious liberty, the Cristeros," Vaca wrote, noting his own father had been a Cristero fighter. "Meanwhile for us, victims and survivors of other atrocities, not a word."

The 84-year-old pope, who will be going to Cuba on Monday, has made no explicit reference to abuse on this trip. But the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope's words about the need to protect children from violence referred also to the need to protect them from priestly sexual violence.

Some other victims of Maciel have said they didn't want a meeting anyway because the pope had been head of the Vatican office that received their complaint against Maciel in 1998. It took the Vatican eight years before sentencing Maciel to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his crimes.

The pope did meet briefly on Saturday night with eight relatives of victims of violent crime. Lombardi said it wasn't a sit-down meeting so much as a brief greeting.

Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein reported this story in Silao and Nicole Winfield reported in Leon. AP writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Guanajuato and E. Eduardo Castillo in Leon contributed to this report.

Follow AP reporters covering the pope: twitter.com/(hashtag)!/AP/pope-visit

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