MEXICO CITY— Donald Trump and Mexico’s ruling elite have something in common: They both seem to think the pope’s recent visit to the Aztec nation was all about them.
The Republican frontrunner and veteran narcissist stole headlines shortly after the pope departed Mexico last week by suggesting the pontiff had been used as a “pawn” by the Mexican government to try to derail his presidential campaign. But even before Trump tried to make the pope’s visit all about him, Mexican politicians were doing the same thing by turning the pontiff’s trip into their own VIP photo-op.
As Mexican columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio put it, Francis was essentially “kidnapped” by the Mexican government, whose VIP guest list and excessive security protocols at times kept the pontiff far removed from the Catholic faithful he had come to see.
The Mexican government’s preferential option for the privileged was on full display during most of Francis’ scheduled events around the country. At Mexico City’s iconic Virgin of Guadalupe basilica, where the pope talked about the poor as being ambassadors of faith, President Enrique Peña Nieto, his family, ministers and celebrity guests were given the best seats in the front of the church, as the hoards of devote Mexicans waited outside in the sun watching the mass on giant screens. Even priests, nuns and church volunteers had a hard time getting tickets to see their leader.
When Francis arrived in the southern state of Chiapas, where he talked about Mexico’s marginalized indigenous communities, Governor Manuel Velasco similarly reserved dozens of front row seats for his hand-picked entourage.
At an event for cancer patients and people living with disabilities, pop stars and other famous guests were in line to shake the pontiff’s hand and smile for the cameras. And in Ciudad Juárez, VIPs were given preferential seating up front, blocking the view of many who came in wheelchairs.
The pope’s words still managed to reach the millions who watched and listened to his masses. But after the final Amen, Francis’ message of peace and reconciliation seemed immediately forgotten by the media, which delighted in the Trump v. Pope gossip scandal.
Others, meanwhile, seemed to miss the message because they were too busy listening for what he didn’t say to actually hear what he did. That was specifically true in the case of the 43 missing students or cases of pederasty in the Mexican church — two topics that Francis sidestepped during an inflight press conference on the way back to Rome.
In Mexico, the pope did denounce corruption, impunity and drug war violence. But he did so in a way that didn’t name names, almost as a reminder that the problems facing the country are bigger than any individuals.
The Mayor of Mexico City gets his holy selfie with Pope Francis.
Unfortunately, Francis’ powerful theme-based messages on climate change or the plight of immigrants weren’t scandalous enough to compete with Trump. And the pope’s words seem to have been missed entirely by the well-heeled Mexicans jostling in the front row for the best position in front of the cameras.