Pope Francis chooses silence over soundbites to heal a battle-weary Mexico

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MEXICO CITY — Many Mexicans expected Pope Francis to denounce violence, corruption and the country’s leaders upon his arrival in Mexico City. Francis, after all, has built a reputation as a sincere pontiff that goes off script.

Some were also eager for the pope to outright slam the Mexican church.

Francis did tackle some of the issues, but with a mix of subtle jabs and benevolence. So far, his overall message has been one of reconciliation, not reprimand.

Mariachis and crowds gather to welcome Pope Francis in Mexico City.AP

Mariachis and crowds gather to welcome Pope Francis in Mexico City.

“Every time we seek the path of privilege and benefit for a few, in detriment of the common good, sooner or later life in society becomes fertile ground for corruption, drug trafficking, the exclusion of different cultures, violence, including human trafficking, kidnapping and death, causing suffering and stopping development,” Francis said Saturday during a press conference in Mexico’s National Palace.

Speaking at the National Cathedral, the pope also asked Mexico’s bishops to fight temptation. “Don’t let yourselves be corrupted… Don’t place your trust in the carriages and horses of today’s pharaohs,” Francis said, blending current events with biblical passages.

Some observers praised the pope’s delicate balancing act.

“He said exactly what needed to be said in each place,” Elio Masferrer, a Mexico City-based religion historian, told Fusion. “He doesn’t name any names, but everyone knows who he’s calling out. That’s his greatest talent,” Masferrer explained.

Others expressed skepticism about what effect Francis’ words and actions will have in the Mexican population at large. 

“It’s nice that he comes and visits but we’ll see if that’s of any help to the people,” said Brandon, a 17-year-old selling Francis paraphernalia on the streets of Mexico City. “He could say a few words so that those that are religious can hold on to their faith.”

Pope Francis and President Enrique Peña Nieto address the press at the National Palace.AP

Pope Francis and President Enrique Peña Nieto address the press at the National Palace.

During his last sermon on Saturday at the country’s iconic basilica, the pope, in front of embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto and the nation’s elites, talked about the poor as the ambassadors of the faith.

Francis, citing local legend, reminded his audience that Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe, whose skin is brown and is regarded by devout Catholics as the country’s ultimate mother, appointed an impoverished indigenous man to carry on her message.

But the pope’s biggest moment came when he chose silent contemplation over soundbites.

After mass, Francis went into a backroom in the basilica to contemplate the Virgin for several minutes.

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was removed and placed inside a private room for Francis to worship her.AP

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was removed and placed inside a private room for Francis to worship.

That conciliatory silence struck a chord with many.

“By simply staring at this virgin, he wanted to make clear he’s on the side of all those who are suffering. He was entrusting Mexico to her,” said Arturo Chiquito, a 23-year-old Latino graduate student from the University of Notre Dame who was visiting Mexico City.

“He came to heal and to give words of encouragement to the Mexican people,” he said. “That’s what his silence invoked, by simply staring at the mother of all Mexicans.”  

A man, in the same vein as Francis, contemplates the virgin at a Church in the center of Mexico City.Rafa Fernandez

A man, in the same vein as Francis, contemplates the virgin at a church in the center of Mexico City.

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