When John Paul II visited Mexico on his first Apostolic Journey in 1979, he had to apply for a visitor’s visa as a private citizen and paid fines for wearing his clerical attire in public. When Pope Benedict XVI landed in Mexico last week, he was visiting a very different Mexico.
First and foremost Pope Benedict was visiting a nation with which the Holy See has official relations. This year marks 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two states. Second, his visit came just days before the Mexican government voted on changes to the constitution that would give the Catholic Church unprecedented freedom in that country.
While Mexico is the second most Catholic country in Latin America, and the Guanajuato region Pope Benedict was visiting is 94 percent Catholic, until now the Church has been prohibited from worshiping outside of government authorized churches. The Church has also been prohibited from running educational programs and owning media outlets.
As Pope Benedict was boarding a flight back to Rome from Havana March 29, the Mexican parliament was voting on changes to two articles of the country’s constitution. Article 40 of the constitution will now include the word “secular” in the description of the Mexican state. Article 24 now guarantees freedom of religion and worship.
The constitutional changes must now be approved by a majority of Mexico’s 31 states.
Photo: courtesy of CNS