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Pope's visit to Mexico renews ties severed 130 years ago.

MERIDA, Yucatan, Mexico -- Soaking wet, pushing, craning, cheering at any hint his holiness would soon emerge, 100,000 Mexicans and a few foreign pilgrims prayed a downtown Merida squall Aug. 12 while John Paul II met with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari at the governor's palace.

The meeting -- Salinas boasted of his administration's social progress, the pope complimented him for the same -- was historic because it was the culmination of the first-ever official papal state visit to Mexico.

While the pope's 24-hour tour of western Yucatan was his third trip to this country, last week was the first time he was officially recognized as a head of state. A series of 1992 reforms recognized Catholic and other churches in Mexico and renewed ties severed between the Mexican government and the Vatican 130 years ago.

While many of the anticlerical laws had long been ignored by the government, technically, until last year it was illegal for a priest even to walk around with a cassock on.

The visit was "a symbol of mutual interest shared by Mexico and the Holy See," Salinas said during his address at the airport welcoming the pope. And then, with his normally mild voice raised to a yell: "We welcome you, Pope John Paul 11, pilgrim of peace, voice of hope, friend dear to the hearts of all Mexicans."

John Paul II responded by thanking Salinas and "the le-gitimate authorities of the Mexican government."

Observers here say this visit is politically important for both men.

For Salinas, because it is expected to give the president's ruling PRI, Revolutionary Institutional Party, a boost of legitimacy before crucial gubernatorial elections here in November.

Since Salinas was elected amid charges of electoral fraud five years ago, opposition politicians have garnered votes by challenging the legitimacy of the PRI.

Ana Rosa Payan of the opposition National Action Party, Merida's mayor and a favorite in the governor's race here, is no different. She has repeatedly challenged the Mexican government's commitment democratic process.

For the pope, the visit is an opportunity to recognize a series of 1992 changes to the Mexican Constitution that gave official recognition to the Catholic and other churches in Mexico.

In his speech welcoming the pope, Salinas touched on all the political themes his administration is promoting in Mexico City.

"In Mexico, we are building bridges between justice and modernization through a program we call Solidarity," be said, referring to a package of public works and social welfare programs critics have called a national bureaucracy of political patronage. "Solidarity incorporates Mexicans from every corner of the country, from poor urban neighborhoods to rural, indigenous communities."

But while many Merida residents were wildly enthusiastic about the pope's visit -- an estimated 1.2 million cheering fans packed a field in the Merida suburb Xoclan to attend Wednesday's papal mass -- several Merida faithful said they were unimpressed by Salinas' politicization of the event.

"The pope is a good man, but he doesn't know what it's like living here -- during elections they rob even the voting booths," said Marcelina Ruiz, a Merida secretary and one of 20,000 "pope-guards" who helped with crowd control Wednesday. In Ruiz's neighborhood, Solidarity money is distributed according to political favors owed, she said, adding that members of the local Solidarity committee were allowed free exclusive-area passes to the pope's visit.

"There is going to be violence during these upcoming elections," said Ruiz' brother, Fausto Coba, a Merida neighborhood butcher. "The people here are fed up." Other papal fans, though, took a less severe view of the visit. Socorro Manzanilla de Perez and her sister Gloria De Trona, arrived at the bleachers lining Paseo de Monteja at 11 p.m. to save seats for their family. The pope wasn't expected to pass until 2 the following afternoon, but Manzanilla de Perez said a glimpse of the Holy Father would be worth the wait. "Our faith helps us manage," she said.

The papal visit is also an effort by the Vatican to confront a trend of Protestant conversions among local indigenous groups, said Bernardo Barranco, an analyst at the Center for Religious Studies in Mexico City.

John Paul II continued from Mexico Aug. 12 to Denver, Colo., where he presided over the Catholic World Youth Day Conference.

Like the Denver conference, where McDonalds Was named the official supplier of food, and concessions are expected to total more than $20 million, John Paul II's visit to Merida has a commercial side.

Many among the throngs lining Merida's Paseo sported T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Welcome Pilgrim," on one side, and the logos of the official pope visit sponsors, BCH bank and Coca-Cola, on the other.

Mexican audience billed as papal-indigenous summit

IZAMAL, Yucatan, Mexico One hour after Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari greeted John Paul II boasting of public works programs designed to help Mexicans "from rural and indigenous communities," Primitivo Cuxin, a Mayan farmer, told the Holy Father such programs haven't amounted to much.

"We work very hard on the land we have but we barely make enough to eat. They hardly pay us at all," Cuxin said during an audience billed as a papal-indigenous summit.

"They give money to people who are already producing a lot -- even though they destroy the country-side, kill the deer, ruin our forests, leave us with nothing." About 70 percent of Yucatan Mayan children suffer from malnutrition, according to news reports here.

During his Aug. 1 1 talk before an audience of 3,000 indigenous people gathered from all over Latin America, the pope called on governments of the world to respect the rights of indigenous people.

He made a similar indigenous rights speech nearly a year ago when he visited the Dominican Republic commemorating the 500th anniversary of the landing of Columbus, but be had to cut that trip short for health reasons.

The Aug. 11 exchange between the pope and Cuxin took place in Izamal, a Mayan city that was the site of some of the first Catholic evangelizing in Latin America. The pope called for a "new evangelization" among indigenous people. According to news reports, Protestant conversions among Yucatan Mayans have more than doubled in recent years.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Papal Visit
Author:Smith, Matt
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 27, 1993
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