The Pope’s meeting with the Moscow Patriarch is getting a great deal of media coverage and commentary, but we should perhaps remember that he is on his way to Mexico, a country that faces several challenges, as well as being a country with a vast Catholic population. Mexico, in short, is the sort of place where a Papal visit can really count.
Who knows what he will say there, and what he will say during his now traditional airborne press conference on the way back, which some love, and some have come to dread. Here are a few of the neuralgic points that ought to come up.
First of all, as anyone who has ever opened a newspaper will know, Mexico is in the grip of something that amounts to a civil war, which has killed thousands of people. This civil war is being fought between various drug cartels for control of the supply lines that link the countries that produce cocaine (such as Colombia) with the countries that consume cocaine (such as the United States). Because these supply lines pass for the most part through Mexico, Mexico is the turf over which these cartels are quarreling, and ordinary Mexican people are caught in the crossfire.
So, what will the Pope say about that? To pretend it is not happening would be cowardly and in the long-term catastrophic. To make a generic condemnation of recreational drug consumption would be pretty pointless, as everyone knows that recreational drug consumption is irresponsible. To condemn the violence of the cartels would be a statement of the obvious as well.
To condemn the Mexican government for its collusion with the cartels might well give people a jolt, for in the end, it is the government that is responsible for the failure to keep order, and morally responsible as well for their collusion with the drug lords.
The Pope could well bring up the case of Cardinal Posadas who was murdered in the car park at Guadalajara airport in 1993. At the time we were all told that the Cardinal was either shot in the crossfire between two different gangs, or else was shot because he was mistaken for a drug lord himself.
The truth, which has never been given the publicity it deserves, is that the Cardinal was murdered at the behest of powerful people, and his crime was that he was too good a pastor. It would be good if the Pope could remind us all of Cardinal Posadas and his heroic sacrifice. Oddly, I have been to the very place he was shot, and there was no memorial there at the time of my visit; neither have I seen any memorial to the late Cardinal anywhere in Mexico. But Cardinal Posadas ought not to be forgotten.
One matter the Pope will surely be unable to avoid is the horrific kidnapping and presumed murder of 43 student teachers in 2014. This matter is a live issue in Mexico and will not go away, much as many in power would like it to. The responsibility for this crime is still not clear (very little in Mexico ever is) but is thought to reach high in the power structures of Mexican society.
The Pope wants to go to the margins and give a voice to the voiceless: this case is one that cries out for his attention, for it is emblematic of all that is wrong with Mexico, and indeed so many other countries in Latin America. The Pope’s intervention could make a real difference, in making less tenable the position of those who defend the indefensible.
Finally, the Pope is going to a country that is wonderfully beautiful: having traveled its length and breadth (more or less) I can say that Mexico is astonishing in its loveliness. Above all, it contains some of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met. (The food is brilliant too, as is Mexican beer.) He is guaranteed to recive a rapturous reception. And when there he will see the devotion of the Mexican people to the Blessed Virgin and to their saints.
I hope he has something to say about the many martyrs that Mexico produced during the troubled times of the early twentieth century: heroic priests who died rather than deny their faith, and who did not desert their flocks in their hour of need. (If you have not read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, you need to read it and soon.)
It would be nice for the Pope to recognise the sterling work done by these priests, work that continues to be done by so many priests today!