Pope Francis asked indigenous people for forgiveness and for their help in dealing with climate change during his recent trip to Mexico where he also said a mass at a basilica honoring an indigenous saint and then at a mass that preceded meetings with indigenous leaders from several Latin American countries, parts of the service were translated into three indigenous languages.
The Pope began his trip with a visit to Mexican government officials but spent much of the next four days meeting with and honoring Indigenous Peoples from all of the Americas.
On the second day of the Pontiffs five day visit to Mexico he said mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe, named for the Virgin of Guadalupe who, according to church legend, appeared to the indigenous Juan Diego and where, last November, for the first time in Mexican history the mass was said in Nahuatl, the language of 1.5 million people in Mexico.
But it was during his visit to Chiapas, home to more than one million indigenous people and site of a conference that brought together many thousands of indigenous leaders from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and elsewhere, where the Pontiff addressed indigenous people in general. (One press report asserted that close to 300,000 indigenous people were in the region to see the Pope and/or attend the conference.)
“We cannot remain deaf before one of the greatest environmental crises in history, and on that score you have much to teach us,” Pope Francis said at a mass in St. Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas.
“Your peoples have been misunderstood and excluded from society. Some have deemed your values, culture, and traditions inferior. Others, giddy with power, have forced you from your lands and contaminated them,” the Pontiff continued.
“How good that it makes us examine our consciences and learn to say forgive, forgive, brothers. Today’s world, deprived by a throwaway culture, needs you. In a certain way, it is a call to awaken, but in many ways they have tried to anesthetize our souls to not feel the pain of injustice.”
The mass in St. Cristobal de las Casas also featured the reading of biblical passages translated into Ch’ol, the psalms into Tsotsil, the homily into Tzeltal and the singing of the Our Father prayer in Txotsil.
While the saying of mass in those indigenous languages by a pope in Mexico is an historic first, this was not the first time Pope Francis had officiated mass that was translated into an indigenous language nor was it the first time the Pontiff had asked forgiveness of indigenous people for the brutality inflicted on them by European invaders in the Americas.
In his 2015 tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay the Pope said mass in Quito, Ecuador where many of the readings were translated into Quechua. During a mass in Bolivia the Pope first publicly asked for forgiveness
“We humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses committed by this same church but also for the crimes committed against the original people during the so-called conquest of America,” the Pope said in a mass in Bolivia.
After the mass in Chiapas, the Pope met with indigenous leaders from the region as well as some of their families. Immediately prior to the Pope’s visit to Chiapas, a conference of indigenous leaders from 15 Latin American countries came together to discuss land rights issues and the implications of the Papal Encyclical entitled “Laudato Si” in Spanish.
The Pope wrapped up his visit to Mexico in the border town of Juarez where he first visited a prison and then said mass in a large stadium. He also said a prayer near the US/Mexico border in an area filled with small crosses erected to honor the thousands of migrants who have lost their lives in the crossing. Migrant rights advocates have noted that many of those migrants are indigenous from Mexico and Central America.
“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones,” he said in Juarez. “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today.”