Pope urges more respect for Indians

Pontiff beatifies two men, ending moving Mexico trip

August 02, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

MEXICO CITY - Pope John Paul II left Mexico yesterday after an outpouring of emotional support for his fifth visit, during which he pleaded for more respect for millions of Indians in Mexico and the rest of the Americas.

"I leave, but I do not leave. I leave, but I will not be absent. In my heart, I remain," the 82-year-old pontiff said to thunderous applause in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Wearing a stole woven by Indians, the pope beatified two Mexican Roman Catholic "martyrs" who church history says were killed by other Indians in 1700 in the state of Oaxaca.

He blessed glass boxes containing the bones of the two men in a sumptuous ceremony punctuated by Indian rituals and traditional brass band music favored by Oaxacan Indian villagers.

The highlight of his Mexico visit came Wednesday when the pope canonized the first Indian saint of the Americas, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, a 16th-century Aztec.

The pope repeatedly stressed the importance of Indians to the church and to Mexican society. Catholics in Latin America have been challenged by the rapid growth of Protestant sects during the past two decades.

In a surprisingly intimate gesture during yesterday's ceremony, Indian women gently brushed the pope's shoulders with branches in a pre-Hispanic purification ritual.

The pontiff, struggling to overcome the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, waved to bless the women.

He showed signs of exhaustion during his trip, which began last week in Canada and included a 25-hour stop in Guatemala this week.

But in yesterday's ceremony, he managed to smile slightly more than in previous appearances. And he beat time to drums that accompanied Indian dancers wearing plumed hats.

Hundreds of thousands of weeping and cheering faithful lined the streets as the pope was driven after the ceremony to the airport for his departure to Rome.

"Beautiful Mexico, God bless you," the pope said.

Live television broadcasts covered the pope's public activities for hours, even showing his plane as it faded into the distance.

"It has been like a dream. And the dream has gone with that plane that heads into the skies," said one broadcaster.

President Vicente Fox, who faced some criticism from left-wing politicians for kissing the pope's ring, bid farewell to the pope.

The country's embrace of the pope stretches to 1979, when he chose Mexico - the world's second most populous Catholic country - for his first trip as pontiff. The canonization is viewed as the culmination of the close relationship with Mexico the pope has forged.

The Indian saint is said to have encountered an apparition of the Virgin Mary - the Virgin of Guadalupe - who spoke to him in his native language in 1531 and left her image emblazoned on his cloak.

The event is said to have inspired the indigenous to adopt Christianity and to have instructed the Spanish conquistadors to regard Indians as children of God.

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