Pope John Paul II’s recent visit to Mexico revealed the church’s resolute concern to preserve and win over the nation’s Indians’ devotion to Catholicism and the difficulty in achieving that goal.
The pope ended his trip to the Americas on August 1 in Mexico, by addressing the Indians and appealing for greater respect toward them. He proclaimed the first Mexican Indian saint. But none of the 132 Mexican bishops is an Indian, and few priests can speak to their followers in regions with an Indian majority in their native languages, according to the Associated Press (Aug. 1).
This contrasts with the growth of Evangelicals in Mexico, especially among Indians.
Mexico remains the second largest Roman Catholic country (after Brazil and before the United States), with approximately 75 million Roman Catholics above the age of five, reports the Catholic news agency Zenit (July 28). But although the Catholic part of the population has grown in absolute numbers, the percentage has come down in 10 years from 91 percent to 87 percent.
Those are the results of a research conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INEGI). There has been a steady rise of evangelical Protestants since the early 1970s, to the extent that Mexicans (and Guatemalans) are no longer only recipients of foreign evangelism, but “are now setting up their own and exporting their evangelism abroad,” reports The Economist (July 27).
Evangelicals have been particularly successful in the southern, poorer parts of Mexico. Chiapas is now 14 percent Protestant. The Economist quotes Mexican sociologist of religion Roberto Blancarte, stating that the rise of Protestantism in those areas has become the Catholic Church’s “major worry” in Mexico.
— By Jean-François Mayer