Francis’ visit to Chiapas, on Monday, 15 February, was an important one, highly anticipated and experienced with particular excitement by the local communities who wanted the Pontiff to feel the ancient breath of these lands. Here 75 per cent of the inhabitants are of 12 indigenous ethnicities — 58 per cent of whom are Catholic — united by extreme poverty and abandonment, and often provide fertile ground for prostitution, alcoholism and addiction.
Francis’ decision to come to Chiapas thus has considerable worth and significance because of crucial events that took place here in the recent past, linked to the painful history of the indigenous populations, to their struggles for justice and emancipation, as well as to the Church’s commitment to be by their side. As was Bishop Ruíz García, who with passion and courage led the diocese for 41 years. His human history crosses that of Subcommander Marcos and the Zapatista army. Indeed, the Bishop was a mediator between them and the government authorities.
The day began with the Pope’s arrival in the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. His welcome featured the sounds and colours of this land, thanks especially to the presence of several hundred people dressed in traditional costume, such as the Zoque couple who gave their guest a “leadership baton” and a crown of flowers, which he donned immediately.
From the airport he was then taken by helicopter to San Cristóbal, about 50 km away and at an altitude of 2262 metres, home to almost 200,000 people. Upon his arrival at the municipal sport centre, Francis was greeted by Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel and the civil authorities. He then celebrated Mass in the Pachón Contreras baseball stadium.
It was an evocative celebration on a beautiful sunny day, with 10,000 indigenous people in colourful traditional dress. The direct descendants of 62 groups of Mexican origin gathered close to the altar, sealing in the deep religiosity that has distinguished these lands for centuries. Along with them were an additional 80,000 faithful scattered over the rest of the field and in the bleachers. Many were groups from other Mexican states. Representatives of various ethnicities also came from the Guatemalan border and even from El Salvador and Honduras.
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St. Peter’s Square
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