If any of you know me personally then you’re likely fully aware of the fact that I am completely and utterly devoid of religion. I don’t believe in God, Buddha, Mohammed, or any of the other forms these deities choose to take, or their believers choose to give them.
I don’t know that I’d go as far as to call myself an atheist; I’m more just apathetic.
That being said much of my upbringing was peppered with religious experiences, usually in the form of my fanatically Mormon grandparents continuously reminding me that my filthy soul needed saving or Wednesday nights at prayer meetings that I plaintively begged my mother to be allowed to attend. The church bus would lumber its way around the country roads on which I grew up and myself and all my friends would clamber aboard and, in the dark recesses of the bus, do things that were decidedly un-Christlike.
Yeah, I had my first awkward, fumbling make-out session on the church bus.
All of this aside, I have always been repugnantly fascinated by the Catholic church. Powerful to the extent they could be considered a candidate for world domination, the Catholic church and the Vatican have always frightened me a bit.
It may have been because, in a fit of anger at my teenage self, my mom threatened to send me to a convent.
Then there’s the idea of the pope. I know very little about the pope and what he actually does, so I feel not at all qualified to form an opinion. However, this newest pope seems very different. He actually seems like he gives a shit, and while the church itself still pulls the strings, Pope Francis acts like he has scissors in his pocket and he’s not afraid to use them.
This week Pope Francis arrives in Mexico. When he paid a papal visit to the United States a few months ago I was shocked at the hordes of people who came out to see him, hoping for a touch, a wave, even mere eye contact. That was the United States, and this is Mexico. A land where Catholicism still goes toe to toe with ancient Mayan and Aztec religious practices, but a land that also has at least one church for every neighborhood.
On this visit, the pope will come to our little town of San Cristobal. When the rumors started flying a few months ago that His Holiness would pay a visit to our little, alpine town I started to wonder why. Then as more information came out it became clear; each pope has his own personal agenda and Pope Francis has a fondness for indigenous peoples and refugees.
If you know anything about Chiapas then you know that there have been tenuous ties between the people who have lived here for thousands of years and the suits in Mexico City. You may also recall the uprising of nearly 25 years ago that became known as the Zapatista movement. Many experts have varying opinions as to the hows and the whys of this peasant movement, but most agree that it was all the fault of NAFTA. Or the devaluation of the Mexican peso. Or widespread corruption within the government. Hell, it was probably all three, and then some.
Without rehashing the history of a very tumultuous time in Mexican history (you can read a very good account of that period in the book Bordering on Chaos) the point is that Pope Francis is coming to San Cristobal to show some sort of solidarity with the Chiapanecas, and to (allegedly) honor the now dead priest –Father Samuel Ruiz– who acted as a mediator of sorts between the indigenous people, their leader Subcomandante Marcos, and the Mexican government.
So, next Monday the Pope will arrive in San Cristobal. He’ll perform a Mass at the local baseball stadium which had to be extensively remodeled and enlarged to accommodate the crowds, and he’ll give that Mass in Spanish and two Mayan dialects. He’ll then visit the Cathedral that is about 5 minutes from my house.
The US State Department issued a memo regarding this visit, and I was surprised to find that it wasn’t all gloom and doom. It simply warned of heavy traffic, closed roads, and that it’s advisable to stock up on food and water.
However, it’s the presence of the Mexican military that I’m most interested in seeing. Chiapas is still a very raw place, and the Chiapanecas are still very vocal in their displeasure, which usually translates to roadblocks and spray paint. The aforementioned cathedral is always covered in political graffiti, which local painters have been scrambling to cover in anticipation of El Papa. I’m sure there are guards posted now so the taggers are kept at bay and the pope doesn’t have to see yet another fervent cry for justice for The 43.
Of course, rumors are flying around San Cristobal. Are all the roads near the square and the cathedral going to be closed? I don’t have a ticket to the Mass so will I still be able to get a glimpse of the pope? He’s coming in and out by helicopter; can I see the popecopter from my roof?
Regardless of exactly how this visit will go down, this is the official schedule.
Monday 15 February 2016
07:30 Departure by plane for Tuxtla Gutiérrez
09:15 Transfer by helicopter to San Cristóbal de Las Casas
10:15 Holy Mass with the indigenous community of Chiapas at the Municipal Sports (Homily by the Holy Father)
13:00 Lunch with indigenous representatives and the Papal entourage
15:00 Visit to the Cathedral of San Cristòbal de las Casas
15:35 Transfer by helicopter to Tuxtla Gutiérrez
16:15 Meeting with Families in “Víctor Manuel Reyna” Stadium at Tuxtla Gutiérrez (Discourse by the Holy Father)
18:10 Departure by plane for Mexico City
20:00 Arrival at the airport in Mexico City
Despite all of my misgivings about religion, I am ridiculously excited about this event. While my chances of actually laying eyes on the pope are slim, Mexicans do love a party and I expect this one celebrating the Papal visit will be one for the record books.
Regardless, I’ll be out in the fray, camera in hand, elbow to elbow with the truly devout and the ones like me, who are just a little pope-curious.