February 22, 2016

MEXICO CITY - Pope Francis has urged Mexico's bishops to show "prophetic courage" in denouncing drug violence and avoid "the seductive illusion of underhanded agreements" which some say bishops make with corrupt officials and criminals.

"The magnitude of this phenomenon . . . and the gravity of the violence . . . do not allow us as pastors of the Church to hide behind anodyne denunciations," the pope told an audience of bishops Feb. 13.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence over the past 10 years and another 25,000 Mexicans are missing.

Pope Francis urged the bishops to confront the scourge of drug cartels and organized crime by raising their voices.

They should also develop pastoral plans and embrace "the fringes of human existence in the ravaged areas of our cities."

After the pope's tough 40-minute talk in Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral, only a few of the country's 170 bishops rose to give him a standing ovation.

In off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis warned of "the temptation of aloofness and clericalism" for bishops.

He also called for clerical transparency and asked for unity in the Mexican bishops' conference, which has pursued closer ties with political leaders in recent years, while speaking softly - if at all - on uncomfortable issues such as corruption.

The pope hit hardest on the drug issue, something retired Pope Benedict XVI said nothing about in his 2012 trip to Mexico.

A government crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime has caused violence to rise, along with offences such as extortion and kidnapping.

On one hand, the violence has claimed the lives more than a dozen priests in the past five years.

On the other hand, some dioceses have been accused of collecting "narcolimosnas" or "drug alms," while drug bosses - who often consider themselves proper Catholics - construct and fix parishes and sponsor patron saint feast days.

Pope Francis urged the bishops to go to the peripheries, work with families and build bridges with parish communities, schools and the authorities.

Only then, he said, "will people finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened."

The pope also lauded the Church for its work with the many mostly Central American migrants transiting the country on trips that expose them to crime such as extortion, robbery and rape.

"There are millions of sons and daughters of the Church who today live in the diaspora or who are in transit, journeying to the North in search of new opportunities," he said, calling migration, "the challenge of our age."

The pope urged the bishops to build a Church more inclusive for indigenous peoples, who often live in impoverished conditions and in communities where Spanish is seldom spoken.

"I ask you to show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures.

"The indigenous people of Mexico still await true recognition of the richness of their contribution and the fruitfulness of their presence."

Pope Francis also told the bishops, "We do not need 'princes,' but rather a community of the Lord's witnesses.

"Do not place your faith in the 'chariots and horses' of today's pharaohs, for our strength is in the pillar of fire that divides the sea in two, without much fanfare."


He ended with a call for unity.

"If you have to fight, then fight; if you have to say things, say them but like men, face-to-face, like men of God, who can pray together, who can discern together, and if you argue to ask for forgiveness," he said.

"But always maintain the unity of the episcopal body."