Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass with the indigenous community from Chiapas in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, Feb. 15.


Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass with the indigenous community from Chiapas in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, Feb. 15.

February 22, 2016

Paying homage to the ancient wisdom of Mexico's indigenous peoples, Pope Francis urged them to hold on to hope and condemned those who exploit them and their land.

"Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them," the pope said at a Mass Feb. 15.

"You have much to teach us," he told indigenous elders, activists and faithful gathered at a sports complex in San Cristobal de Las Casas, a city in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state.

The Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas has long been a centre of advocacy for indigenous rights, a mission not shared by all of Mexico's bishops.

During his stay, Pope Francis communicated the Vatican's approval of the use of local languages in the liturgy.

Two of the languages - Tzotzil and Tzeltal - were used for some of the readings and prayers during the pope's Mass. As well, the pope's homily was translated for the many in the crowd who speak only their Mayan tongue.

As the pope toured the crowd in the popemobile, a priest led the people in chanting: "Welcome, pope of peace. Welcome, pope of mercy. Welcome, pope of justice. Welcome, pope of freedom. Welcome, pope of the struggle."

Pope Francis compared the indigenous communities to the ancient Israelites enslaved in Egypt. He assured them that God hears their cry for dignity and respect, and their longing to protect their cultures.

In responding to the oppression of the Israelites, the pope said, God showed them his true face, "the face of a father who suffers as he sees the pain, mistreatment and lack of justice for his children."

Federal and state governments have sent enormous sums of money to Chiapas since the 1994 Zapatista uprising of indigenous people, but poverty rates still top 75 per cent of the population.

"They say Chiapas is a rich state, but we don't know where these riches are," said Manuel Mendez, a vegetable farmer who wore a lambs-wool robe at Mass.

The pope quoted Popol Vuh, a collection of traditional indigenous literature, which says, "The dawn rises on all of the tribes together. The face of the earth was immediately healed by the sun."

The quotation, the pope said, expresses a yearning for freedom and for reaching "a promised land where oppression, mistreatment and humiliation are not the currency of the day."

God's Son rose, Pope Francis said, "so that darkness may not have the last word and dawn may not cease to rise on the lives of his sons and daughters."


The yearning for freedom and a bright future should be kept alive, he said.

People must resist attempts others make to silence their yearning, "anesthetize our soul" or "lull our children" into thinking that nothing can change and their dreams will never come true.

At the Mass, the pope praised the indigenous people's wisdom in caring for the earth.

"The environmental challenge that we are experiencing and its human causes affect us all and demands our response.

"We can no longer remain silent before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history."