The main thrust of the Holy Father's visit is to present a document based on the 1997 Synod for Americas, but local officials said they expect him to touch on Mexican troubles, which have included the conflict in Chiapas state between Zapatista Indian rebels and the government. "It's obvious that Chiapas has taken on not only a national, but also an international dimension," Bishop Avelardo Alvarado, secretary-general of the Mexican bishops' conference, said at a news conference. "Even if he doesn't mention it by name, it will be implicit."
The Holy See's representative to Mexico cautioned observers not to expect too much emphasis on Mexico's internal problems or a condemnation of any group. "The Pope is not a judicial authority in any country of the world," Apostolic Nuncio Justo Mullor said. "The Pope is not coming to bring you an encyclopedia in which he talks about the problems each of you have."
A police official at the entrance to the square told the group of about 15 protesters that they could not enter. "You cannot enter the square because it is a place of worship," he said. "There is nothing more central to Catholic worship than commemorating your dead," replied Sergio Lo Giudice, head of the Arcigay homosexual activist group. "All we want to do is enter the square and lay a wreath on the spot where our friend chose to kill himself to bring attention to the struggle for civil rights," Lo Giudice said.
The two sides reached a compromise in which the protesters were allowed to place a wreath on a steel police barrier at the borderline that separates Rome from the Vatican. The homosexual group also handed out flyers that accused the Church of "cultural oppression" and remaining indifferent to Alfredo Ormando's self-immolation. "We are here because Alfredo chose to kill himself here ... the Vatican has a moral responsibility for the malaise in which many homosexuals live these days," Lo Giudice said.
Bishop Romo Munoz, whose diocese is in the northwest of Mexico, bordering on California, told the Italian monthly magazine Jesus that the region is one of the busiest transit points in the world; some 30 million people pass through Tijuana every year, he said--most of them seeking entry into the United States. Consequently, pastoral work with migrants is the top priority for his diocese.
"We ask the Pope to pay particular attention to migrants-- to give them some words and gestures of consolation and encouragement," the bishop said. He emphasized the difficulty of working with people who have no geographical roots, and whose future is uncertain. He also alluded to the exploitation of illegal migrants by smugglers and confidence artists.
Artists have been busy in Tijuana Noticias Eclesias reports, building a monumental image of Christ with open arms and about 23 meters of height that will rise over Tijuana. The project that began two years ago with the support of numerous parishioners has been 60% completed engineers informed. The project has received a great deal of support on behalf of the residents, who consider it to be a blessing to be able to lift their eyes to the sky from any point of the city and see the image of the Lord. "When we raise Him in His vault we shall direct it so that he pours His blessings over the whole city," affirmed one of the priests in charge of the project. The monument contains a large square surrounded by 27 angels of two meters of height and in whose center is located an oratory that will serve as a base for the Christ of Tijuana. The colossal image, made of fiber glass and resin, is already in its final stage.
The new document, written in French, reflects the findings of an international conference on the same topic, sponsored by the Vatican in October 1998. Both the conference and the new document are responses to the decision by the United Nations to proclaim 1999 as the International Year of the Elderly.
Entitled "The Dignity and Mission of Aged Persons in the Church and in the World," the new statement is signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The 50- page text calls for new pastoral initiatives to address the needs of elderly people.
The document underscores the importance of statistics released last October by the United Nations, which show that while there are now some 66 million people over the age of 80 in the world, that figure is expected to soar to 370 million by the year 2050. By that latter date, the UN calculates, there could be more than 2 million people over 100 years old. At a time when the number of births is declining in most countries, this rapid aging of the world's population causes real practical concerns.
The Vatican's contribution to the discussion on the role of the elderly emphasizes both the problems associated with old age and the special benefits which advanced age can carry. The document laments the tendency of modern society to neglect the dignity of elderly people, and especially the trend toward acceptance of euthanasia. It calls for a renewed appreciation for the wisdom which has traditionally been recognized in older people, and encourages the elderly to recognize their own ability to bear witness to the truths of the Christian faith-- including the witness of patient endurance for those who suffer from pain, neglect, or infirmity.