Pope Francis traveled deep into Zapatista territory on Monday to praise indigenous Mexicans for showing the rest of the world how to live harmoniously with Mother Nature.
“You have a lot to teach us…you know how to be in harmony with nature, which you respect as a source of food, a common home, an altar of human sharing,” the pope told a crowd of mostly indigenous locals gathered in the picturesque yet impoverished town of San Cristobal de Las Casas, which is known for its deep ties to the country’s revolutionary Zapatista movement and its syncretism of Catholicism and ancient Maya rituals.
Chiapas, the state with the smallest Catholic population in Mexico, has experienced an unprecedented surge of people converting to Islam in recent years.
In San Cristobal, the pope acknowledged indigenous Mexicans have been “systematically and structurally” excluded by a society that fails to understand their ancient wisdom.
“Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior,” the pope told the local population. “Others have stripped you from your lands, or have taken actions to pollute them.”
The pontiff added, “Today’s world, stripped away by a culture of discard, needs you.”
Pope Francis went on to deliver an impassioned and poetic defense of Mother Nature, denouncing what he called “one of history’s biggest environmental crises.” His mass was filled with readings and songs in native indigenous dialects including Chol and Tzotzil, and Francis even quoted the Popol Vuh, an ancient book of Maya myths.
“We grew up thinking we were proprietors and dominators [of nature], authorized to exfoliate it,” Francis said. “Our oppressed and devastated earth moans and suffers labor pains… The climate challenge we live and its human roots impact us all.”
Humankind can no longer “pretend we’re deaf” when faced with such environmental sufferings, he said. Ironically, authorities in San Cristobal showed signs of partial hearing impairment by reportedly cutting down a number of trees to expand several roads for the pope’s one-day visit.
As a parting gift to Chiapas, Pope Francis authorized local Church leaders to use native indigenous languages in mass.