On the second day of his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis called on the country’s Christians not to succumb to the temptations of money, fame and power. He did so when he celebrated Mass for 350,000 faithful in a field at Ecatepec, a satellite city 20 miles for Mexico City, with serious problems of drugs, violence and the killing of women.
Since his arrival in this land of 120 million people, Francis appears to have made “the call to conversion” the leitmotif of his five-day visit to the second most Catholic country in the world. It was a central feature of his talks yesterday to Mexico’s civic and political leaders, and to its bishops, and it was at the heart of his homily today.
Speaking from a lectern, at the side of the altar, on a dais beautifully decorated with Aztec symbols, Francis in his homily invited all those who have been “seduced by money, fame and power” to be converted and to turn to God “who is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down,” because his name is “Mercy.”
Francis came by helicopter to this satellite city in the State of Mexico, 22 miles for Mexico City, the most populous municipality in the country with a population of 4 million people, to celebrate Mass in a field on the highlands.
This whole area was once part of the Aztec empire and in the year 1560 Ecatepec was proclaimed “The Republic of the Indians.” In the Nahuatl language Ecatepec means “the windy hill,” and it is so cold here in the highlands in the morning that the Mass was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. By the time Francis arrived in his popemobile the sun was high in the sky but a cool wind was also blowing. The ecstatic crowd — many of whom had camped here overnight — gave him a rapturous welcome when he arrived, while more than a million people lined the route that he took from the heliport to this field.
In planning to come to Mexico, Francis carefully chose the places he would visit, all of which - with the exception of Mexico City that is home to Our Lady of Guadalupe — are in different ways part of the peripheries that he is so attentive to.
He chose Ecatepec because this city — from which so many commute to Mexico City every day — is known for much violence and deaths linked to the drug trade. Tragically, it is ranked as the number one place in the country for femicide — the killing of women, some 600 in the last two years.
Wearing violet vestments for the season of Lent, Francis in his homily recalled that this 40-day period is “a special time for recalling the gift of baptism, when we became children of God.” He went onto remind people of their “dignity” as children of God and, at the same time he drew attention to the fact this this dignity “is continually threatened by the father of lies, by the one who tries to separate us, making a divided and fractious society. A society of the few, and for the few.”
He recalled how often people experience suffering and pain “when the dignity we carry within is not recognized.” At the same time, he acknowledged that many people cry and feel regret when they realize that they too “have not acknowledged this dignity in others.”
Speaking as a pastor keen to heal their wounds, Francis reminded those present and the millions following the Mass on live television that “Lent is a time for reconsidering our feelings, for letting our eyes be opened to the frequent injustices which stand in direct opposition to the dream and the plan of God.”
He told his Mexican audience, which was listening in respectful silence, that Lent is “a time to unmask three great temptations that wear down and fracture the image which God wanted to form in us,” that destroy the dignity of people.
Recalling that Christ in his earthly life was tempted in three ways, he told them that the Christian too is every day subject to those three temptations “which seek to destroy what we have been called to be, which try to corrode us and tear us down.”
He identified these temptations as “wealth, vanity and pride.” He explained that wealth is a temptation because it involves “seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for ‘my own people.’” It involves “taking the ‘bread’ based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives.” He warned that wealth gained in this way “tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering” and is “the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.”
He described the second temptation as vanity, and explained that this entails “the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who ‘are not like me’, and the futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the ‘reputation’ of others.”
Adding to his written text given in advance to journalists, Francis said the third temptation – pride – “is the worst of all.” It entails “putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of ‘mere mortals.’”
Pope Francis reminded his nationwide audience that the Christian is faced with these three temptations every day. They “seek to corrode, destroy and extinguish the joy and freshness of the Gospel” and they “lock us into a cycle of destruction and sin.”
He invited Mexico’s Christians to examine their consciences “to see to what degree” they are aware of these temptations in their lives, and to what extent they have succumbed to them.
He went on to remind them that as Christians “we have chosen Jesus, not the evil one.” And, again departing from his written text, he told them “you cannot dialogue with the devil.”
Speaking as one Christian to another, Francis said, “we want to follow in his footsteps, even though we know that this is not easy. We know what it means to be seduced by money, fame and power.”
Francis told the Christians of this country that the church is well aware that people give into these temptations and for this reason, in this period of Lent, she “invites us to conversion, offering but one certainty: he is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down. He is the God who has a name: Mercy.”
Pope Francis concluded by reminding Christians that “God’s name is our wealth, his name is what makes us famous, his name is our power” and it is in him they trust.
Later speaking at the Angelus, Francis recalled that his predecessor, Bl. Paul VI, in a message to the Mexican people in 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the crowning of Our Lady of Guadalupe, had reminded them that “a Christian cannot but show solidarity” and work “to solve the situation of those” who lack education, work and have not found a way to realize “their legitimate aspirations.” He then urged them to “always be on the front line of all efforts... to improve the situation of those who suffer need,” and “to see in every man a brother and, in every brother Christ.”
Pope Francis, like his predecessor, concluded his brief visit to Ecatepec by inviting the Christians of Mexico “to be on the front line, to be first in all the initiatives which help make this blessed land of Mexico a land of opportunities, where there will be no need to emigrate in order to dream, no need to be exploited in order to work, no need to make the despair and poverty of many the opportunism of a few, a land that will not have to mourn men and women, young people and children who are destroyed at the hands of the dealers of death.”
In the coming days, as he visits other places on the periphery of Mexican society, Pope Francis is sure to continue on this same path, denouncing the evils that are plaguing this nation, calling the wrong doers to conversion, and appealing to Christians “to be on the front lines” in combatting these evils and in being close to the poor.