Theology and Revolution In Mexico

Who directed the following words to the Indian population of southern Mexico?: "The disheartened world of field work, the laborers whose sweat waters their disheartened state as well, cannot wait any longer for their dignity to be recognized really and fully—a dignity no whit inferior to that of any other social sector."

The answer is not the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Nor is the answer Bishop Samuel Ruíz Garcia of San Cristobal, Chiapas. Nor is it one of the "liberationist" priests working with the indigenous peoples of that area. Pope John Paul II said those words in an address to campesinos in Oaxaca and Chiapas on January 29, 1979.

He went on in the same speech to confront wealthy landowners. "To you, responsible officials of the people, power-holding classes who sometimes keep your lands unproductive when they conceal the food that so many families are doing without....It is not just, it is not human, it is not Christian to continue certain situations that are clearly unjust."

So much for the charge that a "radical fringe" of clergy and other pastoral workers have fomented revolution in places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and most recently southern Mexico—unless one chooses to believe that the conservative Polish pope belongs to such a group.

At the same time we need to look closer at the role liberation theology actually played in the rebellion. To poor people who listened to the pope’s denunciation 15 years ago, his words "cannot wait" must have sounded like a call to action.

Similarly potent was the October 1993 communication of several Mexican Catholic bishops regarding NAFTA. "Certain measures [placed] by the government in anticipation of NAFTA," the bishops said, "have augmented the breach between rich and poor." How could such words not stir up feelings of urgency in an oppressed population?

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Sojourners Magazine April 1994
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