Pope John Paul II visited Mexico, for the fifth time, from July 30th to August 1st, 2002. He received an absolutely spectacular welcome. The Pope loves Mexico and Mexico loves the Pope. As he is fond of saying—and he said it on this visit too—"México—Siempre Fiel" (Mexico, Ever Faithful). And, after years of controversy, the pontiff finally canonized the Indian Juan Diego—making him Saint Juan Diego—in an impressive ceremony attended by thousands and viewed by millions.
But appearances can be deceiving. The fact is that the Mexican Catholic Church is in serious trouble.
Mexico's "Milenio" magazine describes the situation thusly:
"Although 85% of the population of our country is officially Catholic...only 5-8% can be considered fervent and militant, 25% are practicing Catholics and more than 60% see the church as an agency of religious services, useful for christenings, First Communions and weddings". (Milenio, July 29th, 2002)
The Mexican Catholic Church is in crisis. Many Mexican Indians are abandoning it to become evangelical Protestants. The church cannot even recruit enough Mexican men to serve as priests. Its moral influence is waning. All the problems social conservatives decry in the U.S. are to be found here as well: divorce, abortion, family disintegration, juvenile delinquency (30% of crimes are committed by minors) etc.
As a person who has lived in Mexico for over a decade, and integrated himself within Mexican society, let me tell you, those who see Mexico as some kind of moral Arcadia are misinformed.
As Sergio Sarmiento, the nationally-known columnist and TV commentator recently put it:
"The popularity of the Pope in our country is not open to question...nevertheless, this is occurring at the same time that the Mexican population is departing from the strictest provisions of the Catholic Church, especially those of a moral nature." (the Siglo July 29th, 2002).
"Nobody can deny the enthusiasm that the figure of the Pope has generated. But this enthusiasm does not necessarily transform the behavior of the Mexican people....." (the Siglo, August 1st, 2002).
Mexico's archbishop, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, was asked in an interview about the decline of Mexican Catholicism. The cardinal tried to dodge the question, deny the obvious and blame it on church/state separation. But he finally had to admit that
"There is still a tendency to separate faith and life, to reduce religious practice to the vestry. We are facing a great difficulty in that sense."
The Pope might say "Mexico, Siempre Fiel." But he and the Vatican are certainly aware of the crisis the church faces in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. This is why the Pope is canonizing Juan Diego.
Juan Diego is a key actor in the narrative of the Virgin of Guadalupe—a Marian apparition said to have occurred in 1531 to Diego on Tepeyac Hill, now part of Mexico City, and to have commanded that a church be built on the site, the present location of the Basilica of Guadalupe.
For traditional Mexican society, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol— some would say the symbol—of Mexican identity. Her image is to be found in all sorts of places—not only churches and bus stations but also in contexts largely divorced from connection to the church, like tattoos and gang-oriented t-shirts. She is regarded as the mother of all Mexicans and the Empress of the Americas.
So why did the Vatican wait until 2002 to canonize Juan Diego? It's not as though the Vatican doesn't canonize Mexicans. There are already some famous Mexican saints—San Felipe de Jesús, martyred in Nagasaki, Japan in 1597; Miguel Pro, sentenced to death by firing squad by the Mexican government and canonized by the Catholic Church in the same (20th) century.
The simple fact is that for centuries there has been doubt about the Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego. And not just among Protestants and atheists who don't believe in Marian apparitions anyway, but in the Catholic hierarchy itself. Several prominent Mexican Catholics, whose orthodoxy and patriotism cannot be impugned, have investigated the matter and rejected the whole account.
The ecclesiastical rejection of the Virgin of Guadalupe continued, in fact, right up until the present time. Witness the bizarre case of Guillermo Schulenberg. He was actually the abbot of the Basilica of Guadalupe for a quarter of a century—and he didn't believe in the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe or the existence of Juan Diego. Schulenberg campaigned against the canonization of Juan Diego—and was forced to resign as abbot.
It seems obvious that Schulenberg opposed the canonization on principle, since opposing it worked against his own vested interests as abbot. Schulenberg was also the target of rather harsh rhetoric. One slanderous attacker even used the cleric's German surname to link him to the Nazis!
(My own view is that the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe cult was transported from Spain in the 1500s. After all, there is a Virgin of Guadalupe in Spain, which predates that of Mexico by centuries. Both the Spanish and the Mexican Virgins of Guadalupe are dark-skinned and the stories are similar—in Spain the Virgin was said to appear to Spanish cowboy Gil Cordero, in Mexico to Juan Diego. It seems to me that the Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe became the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, Gil Cordero being transformed to Juan Diego. Also, it's relevant to note that Tepeyac Hill was a center for the pagan worship of Tonantzin, pre-Hispanic earth mother goddess.)
But Pope Juan Paul II wanted Juan Diego canonized, and he finally had it done. It's impossible not to see papal politics at work here. Now that the Catholic Church is losing the hearts of Mexicans, the Vatican has decided it had better officialize the Virgin of Guadalupe in an attempt to keep Mexican support. But in the long run it might not help much, because the Virgin of Guadalupe really has less to do with Catholic doctrine and practice and more to do with Mexican identity and nationalism.
What does the story of the Virgin of Guadelupe mean for the National Question in the U.S. and for the fate of the feckless Republican Party, helping to legislate itself out of existence by supporting mass immigration?
Despite all the GOP pandering, there is no hard evidence that Mexican immigrants are attracted to the social conservative wing of the party. The reason for this is simple. They are not social conservatives.
And guess what Cardinal Rivera, Mexico's Archbishop and possibly the next Pope, said in the same interview mentioned above? Rivera shares the Catholic hierarchy's love of high immigration from Latin America to the U.S. and said that:
"In the north the emigrants, Mexicans and those who pass through Mexico, are bearing the faith to the north of our continent. Only five years ago the [Catholic] church was in the minority in the United States, it is now the majority." [VDARE.COM note: Not really, published estimates state that from 23 to 28 percent of the American population is Catholic.]
Now Rivera trumps them all. The immigrants are, he tells us—missionaries.
Amazing—the Mexican Catholic Church can't even evangelize itself, and it seeks to evangelize the U.S.A!
Allan Wall, a long-time American resident of Mexico, married his wife in a Catholic church, teaches a Bible class (in Spanish) in an evangelical Protestant church and his wife works in a Catholic school operated by the Jesuit order.
August 27, 2002