In Morelia, the city where Mexico’s drug wars began, Pope Francis called on the country’s bishops, priests and religious not to give in to “the temptation of resignation” when faced with “violence, corruption, drug trafficking, disregard for human dignity and indifference in the face of suffering and vulnerability.”
He issued his clarion call during a festive Mass in the “Venustiano Carranza” stadium on Feb. 5, celebrated to the enchanting sounds of the music of the Purepechas indigenous people. Some 20,000 bishops, priests, men and women religious, seminarians and many young people (whom he will meet this afternoon) attended his Mass, and applauded enthusiastically when he finished speaking.
Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokesman, told the media in Morelia that the pope’s homily at this Mass and his talk later today “have a national significance,” and are not just intended for the people here.
In his rousing homily, Francis reminded people that Jesus taught us in the Our Father to pray “with insistence” every day “Lead us not into temptation.” Indeed, Jesus himself “prayed that his disciples—yesterday’s and today’s—would not fall into temptation,” the pope said.
Seeking to bring his message home to his audience here and across the country, Francis raised some pointed questions: “What could be one of the temptations which springs up not only in contemplating reality but also in living it? What temptation can come to us from places often dominated by violence, corruption, drug trafficking, disregard for human dignity and indifference in the face of suffering and vulnerability? What temptation might we suffer over and over again when faced with this reality which seems to have become a permanent system?”
Pope Francis identified this temptation with one word: resignation. That is “one” of the devil’s “favorite weapons,” he stated: it is the weapon “with which he can overcome us.” He went onto explain that resignation “paralyzes us and prevents us not only from walking, but also from making the journey.” Resignation “not only terrifies us” but also “entrenches us in our ‘sacristies’ and false securities” and “prevents us from proclaiming, but also inhibits our giving praise.”
Furthermore, he told them, resignation “not only hinders our looking to the future, but also thwarts our desire to take risks and to change.” For this reason, he said, “we” should do as Jesus taught us and pray “Our Father, lead us not into temptation!”
To overcome this temptation, Francis said they must pray, and pray as Jesus taught them. He pressed home the importance of this by quoting a popular saying: “Tell me how you pray, and I will tell you how you live; tell me how you live and I will tell you how you pray.” He made clear that without praying they would not be able to overcome the temptation to resignation. He encouraged them to remember those who first taught them to pray, and said they should “look back at our past experiences which have brought us to where we are today.”
In this context, Francis recalled that in the 1500s the first bishop of Michoacán, Vasco Vazquez de Quiroga, did not give into the temptation of resignation when faced with the injustices and evils of his day.
He reminded them that this “first evangelizer” in this region became known as “the Spaniard who became an Indian” because of the way he fought against the injustice being doing to the Purhépechas Indians, whom he described as being “sold, humiliated, and homeless in marketplaces, picking up scraps of bread from the ground.”
Francis recalled that this unjust situation “far from tempting him to listless resignation, succeeded in kindling his faith, strengthening his compassion and inspiring him to carry out plans that were a ‘breath of fresh air’ in the midst of so much paralyzing injustice. The pain and suffering of his brothers and sisters became his prayer, and his prayer led to his response.” And because of this stance for justice, Francis said that “among the Indians, he was known as ‘Tata Vasco,’ which in the Purhépechan language means, Father, dad, daddy.”
As he remembered this courageous witness to the faith, Francis broke off from his written text to reveal that the local bishop, Cardinal Alberto Suarez Inda, had given him the pastoral staff and chalice used by Vasco de Quiroga to use at today’s celebration. He was clearly delighted at this.
In actual fact, the cardinal is a pastor “with the smell of the sheep” and is taking a real frontline stance against the violence, corruption and drug trade in this periphery situation of Mexico, and in the state of Michoacán where five drug cartels have been operating in recent years as a result of which 100,000 people have died from the violence and countless young lives have been destroyed. Francis gave him the red hat in February 2015.
Early today, Francis took the plane yet again to fly 130 miles from Mexico City to Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacán. On arrival at the airport, he was given a rapturous welcome by hundreds of excited young people, and members of the Purhepechas people (there are 25,000 of them in Morelia) who played traditional music.
The welcome at the airport, however, was just a foretaste of the welcome he would receive as he drove into the city. Hundreds of thousands of Morelians lined the route, cheering and waving Mexican and Vatican flags, and when he entered the stadium in a golf cart the crowd erupted with joy, and cheered and applauded. He celebrated the Mass in this joyful spirit. And this afternoon, after a brief rest, he will meet some 50,000 young people and here he is expected to address the drug trade and the violence with even more force.