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ROSARIO, Argentina – Hours before boarding the plane towards his new post, the papal representative in Mexico called the land of Our Lady of Guadalupe a “faithful” place, but also “scourged by violence, by death.”
Archbishop Franco Coppola, Apostolic Nuncio in Mexico, expressed his gratitude for having represented Pope Francis for a little more than five years as he celebrated Mass for the World Day of Peace, commemorated by the Catholic Church every January 1st, in Latin America’s most famous shrine, dedicated to La Morenita.
The Italian diplomat stressed that Mexico is a “rich country”, because it has “many material and human resources,” but warned that peace will not be achieved here as long as there is so much inequality.
“There is a part that lives with dignity, and there is a majority that lives poorly, that lives in poverty; unable to fulfill basic needs, lacking instruction (education), and lacking decent jobs,” he said. “In this way there is no peace, and there cannot be peace,” Coppola said, before lamenting that instead of inspiring unity, it has become fertile ground for individualism.
“At the beginning of this year we asked our mother (Mary) to free us from our selfishness,” he said, noting that it applies both to citizens and civil authorities, because each person can work to “ensure the basic needs for all our fellow citizens: education and a decent job.”
He said that this is what the pontiff proposes for the whole world, “but it seems to me that in a special way it responds to what we need in Mexico. May it be the reason for our prayer. May it be the prayer of the beginning of the year: A change in mentality.”
Later on Sunday Coppola flew to Rome. After a few days in Italy, he will take office as papal nuncio in Belgium and Luxembourg later this month.
Beloved by some, despised by others, Coppola leaves few people indifferent as he leaves Mexico. He is a man considered a friend by many local journalists, as well as clerical abuse victims, since he was active in trying to tackle the crisis.
However, said he lacked the diplomatic touch necessary for the position. For example, two weeks before his transfer was announced by Rome, he revealed in a series of interviews that at least 12 Mexican bishops were being investigated for abuse or abuse cover-up.
Similarly, during the opening of the 111st assembly of the Mexican bishops’ conference, Coppola told the prelates that more must be done to confront the lack of faith and corruption present in the local church.
Coppola said the church has been deaf to the claims of many victims of abuse by Catholic ministers.
“We cannot forget in particular the suffering experienced by minors and vulnerable adults due to sexual abuses of power and conscience committed by a notable number of clergy and consecrated persons,” the archbishop said.
Mexico is the home of disgraced priest Marcial Maciel, the founder of the controversial order the Legion of Christ who died soon after being sanctioned by Pope Benedict XVI to a life of penitence and prayer after a series of accusations of abuse.
The country is slowly waking up to the reality and extent of the clerical abuse crisis.
Coppola revealed in an interview after his transfer was announced that at least 300 priests have been accused of abusing minors in the world’s second most populous Catholic country.
During his last homily in Mexican soil, Coppola also said that the church is continually called upon as a space to assume and accompany the pain of its faithful and yet, “for a long time, the cry of the victims has been a cry that the church failed to listen to. These are deep wounds that are difficult to heal, for which forgiveness will never be sufficiently asked and which are sometimes insurmountable obstacles to progress in our journey together.”
But clerical sexual abuse was not the only reason why some in Mexico saw Coppola as a savior and others as a thorn: He often spoke about organized crime, and the need to combat drug trafficking.
“Organized crime likes silence, in that we don’t talk about their activities,” he said. “But we cannot tolerate their crimes and remaining silent is not the solution. It is complicated. The solution is not as simple as sending the army and the problem is solved.”
Coppola also argued that organized crime flourishes because there is an absence of the state, which generates a “social desert,” with teachers refusing to work in schools in rural areas because of the ongoing violence, further feeding the mafias that proliferate in the country.
The response from the Church to this situation, he said, has to be for priests, religious and missionaries “to stay” among their people. Mexico has long been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for Church personnel, because Church workers are seen as an obstacle by criminals recruiting youths into their organizations.
On Sunday, Coppola said that he has often been asked how to achieve peace in Mexico, and he said that the pontiff gave some answers on how to achieve it on a global scale, but which would also work at a local level.
“First [Francis] says peace cannot be achieved if there is division. We must come together, unite. Peace is a value that deserves that we put aside the differences, which are normal among people, because to achieve peace we have to put them aside. We must unite,” he said.
He pointed out that Francis also mentioned that “it is fundamental that there be instruction (education) for everyone. How fortunate you and your children are to be able to have instruction! You know that there are millions of boys and girls who do not have this joy here in Mexico. I have visited places in our country where there are buildings, schools, but there are no teachers, because they do not dare to go because it is too dangerous. It is not the teachers’ fault of course, but in fact these children, these girls do not have school. Until there is school for all our children there will be no peace,” the archbishop said.
“We have allowed ourselves to be tempted by the idea we have of thinking of ourselves, of our own, of our family,” Coppola said. “The important thing is that our family is well, is protected, has instruction, has a future, a job, and that this is enough; and no, it is not enough at all!”
The papal representative also explained that “our generation feels like orphans, and this orphanage makes us give the worst of ourselves, but we are children of a father [God] and a mother [(Mary], who is not content just to look at us, she takes care of us, attends to us, listens to us and accompanies us.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma