Benedict XVI rides in the popemobile to House of Conde Rul, in Guanajuato, to meet President Calderon. (Matthew C. Hoffman)
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico Friday to an enthusiastic welcome
from crowds of Catholic faithful and government officials, evoking memories of
Pope John Paul II's many successful trips to the world's largest
Spanish-speaking country. However,
the pontiff's journey is also becoming the occasion of a carefully-planned
attack by a victim of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel, who accuses Benedict, John
Paul, and other high officials of the Church of failing to respond adequately
to the accusations against the sexually-abusive priest.
Words of encouragement and peace
Benedict arrived in Mexico on Friday, touching down in the state of
Guanajuato, the heart of Mexico's strongly-Catholic Bajio region. He was received
by President Felipe Calderon, and gave a brief speech thanking Mexicans for
their legendary hospitality, reiterating the themes of faith, hope, and charity
addressed by recent encyclicals, and promising to pray for the end of suffering
caused by "old and new forms of rivalry, resentment, and violence."
"I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of charity," the
pope told the crowd. "I desire to confirm the believers in Christ in their
faith, consolidate them in it, and encourage them to revitalize it with the
hearing of the Word of God, the sacraments, and the coherence of life. In this way, they will be able to share
it with others, like missionaries among their brothers, and be a leaven in
society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence, based in the
incomparable dignity of every human person, created by God, and whom no power
has the right to forget or despise."
President Calderon responded with a discourse on challenges facing the
country, and expressing confidence that the traditional values of the Mexican
people would give them the strength to prevail. Among other issues, such as
poverty and economic inequality, Calderon decried the "ruthless and naked violence" caused by
"delinquents" and "organized crime."
Noting that "in this, our country, 93 million of us Catholics
live...we are the the country with the second highest number of Catholics in
the world," Calderon credited the Church with impregnating Mexico with "the most elevated sense of
love of neighbor..." Following the exchange, the pope was then taken in a
procession to Leon's Colegio Miraflores in the popemobile, greeted by
enthusiastic crowds whose ardor has been widely judged as equal to that
afforded to his predecessor.
On Saturday the pontiff said mass privately in a chapel of the Colegio,
where he had passed the night, and then proceeded to the city of Guanajuato,
where he symbolically received the keys to the city from the governor and mayor
of the city, and broke protocol by personally greeting members of the faithful
who had come to see the event.
The Holy Father was then transported in the glass enclosure of the
popemobile to a second meeting with President Calderon, this time at the famous
House of Conde Rul in the storybook city of Guanajuato. Following the brief
encounter, during which the president reportedly introduced him to several
victims of violence, Benedict appeared on the balcony of the residence, where
he was greeted by a cheering crowd of thousands in the Plaza of Peace below. He
delivered an address to children, many of whom were assembled in an orchestra
that serenaded the crowd with symphonic classics and traditional Mexican songs.
The pope said that children "occupy a very important place in the
heart of the Pope" and that he held a particular concern for those who bear the weight of suffering,
abandonment, violence, or hunger."
"This place in which we find ourselves has a name that expresses
the longing present in the heart of all peoples: 'peace,' a a gift that comes
from above. 'Peace be with you," said Benedict, quoting the Gospel of
John. "They are the words of the resurrected lord. We hear them in every
mass, and today they resound again , with the hope that everyone will be
transformed into a sower and messenger of that peace for which Christ gave up
"I want to raise my voice, inviting all to protect and care for
children, so that their smile is never taken away, so that they can live in
peace and look to the future with confidence."
In addition to the massive showing by the faithful at the pope's
appearances, large numbers of Mexicans have contributed to the organization of
the event, often without pay. According to CNN, organizers have had the
assistance 84,000 volunteers, and federal and state authorities say that 13,000
government agents are providing security for the event.
Simultaneous press conference announces new book on Maciel scandal
The pope's warm reception was temporarily overshadowed by coverage of a
press conference held in Guanajuato on Saturday, in which a victim of the
sex-abusing founder of Legionaries of Christ, the Mexican Marcial Maciel,
announced his new book purporting to document that the Holy See was aware of
Maciel's conduct for decades, and did nothing.
The book, which was co-authored by an individual who claims to have left
the priesthood in disgust over sex abuse scandals, was introduced to the media
by one of the Spanish-speaking world's most eminent journalists, Carmen
Aristegui. "La Voluntud de No Saber" ("The will not to
know"), by Jose Barba and Alberto Athie, contains over 200 distinct items
from Vatican documents dating as early as 1944 on Maciel, who died in 2008
after being removed from public ministry by Pope Benedict.
"The idea is to demonstrate that the Vatican, that Cardinal Ratzinger,
that the Church overwhelmingly knew about the case," Barba said in a video
presented at the press conference, according to Mexico's El Economista
"With irrefutable and resounding documents, the book shows us that
the Roman Curia not only knew about the pathologies of Maciel but tolerated and
protected them," said Bernardo Barranco, an expert on religions who wrote
the forward to the book, at the same event.
Papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi discarded the book's thesis.
Regarding the issue of "if the popes were complicit in the problem, I must
say 'no,' and that my knowledge of these popes, which I think is not a
knowledge that less than the authors of the book, is that it isn't true that
they were complicit," he told reporters at his own press conference the
"To the contrary, the current pope, Pope Benedict, those of us who
worked with him, we know that he is an 'uncoverer' because he has truly done
much to go directly against these problems and put into process in the Church
fundamental measures and remedies to confront them. In this sense I think it is
fundamentally unjust to consider Pope Benedict as someone who has worked
against the truth and transparency."
Lombardi added that John Paul II's beatification commission had examined
the question of the pontiff's knowledge of Maciel's situation and had concluded
that he did not know about the wayward priest's "double life."
Lombardi also dismissed complaints that the Holy Father had not met with
priestly sex abuse victims in Mexico, noting that although the pope has acted
to correct the problem, he does not meet with sexual abuse victims on every
foreign trip. "It isn't necessary that this happen on every trip, but it
is rather a part of a program that the Church is carrying out in the country,
but the statements, the attitude of the Church, the way that the pope is
insisting on this, is throughout all of the Church, and applies to all of
Mexico," he told reporters.
“Anonymous” attacks via the internet
Although the book's presentation failed to damper the enthusiasm of Pope
Benedict's large fan base among Mexicans, an attack of another type did manage
to cause problems for the trip's organizers: a denial-of-service attack against
organizer websites launched by the criminal hacker group Anonymous, which has
recently declared an anti-Catholic stance and attacked the Vatican's own
website earlier this month.
Ricardo Cruz, who runs visitapapal.com, one of the websites hit by
Anonymous, told Catholic World News that two attacks shut down the site's
servers for several hours, but that functionality had been restored. "The
first attack came immediately after the first transmission ended at seven
o'clock (on Friday) and it it took us about half an hour to bring it
back," he said.
"Then around midnight the next attack came, and that one took us a
little bit longer because we were already outside of the premises here, so we
didn't have any connection."
"There were something like 14 or 15 servers attacking us," he
estimated, adding that although Anonymous apparently hacked into the system and
left an identifying mark, it didn't do any damage.
Note: This is the second of three reports on Pope
Benedict XVI’s visit to Mexico. The first, “The Pope and Mexico’s Spiritual
Crisis”, ran on March 19th. The next will cover Sunday's papal mass,
Vespers, and the pope's farewell to Mexico.