Pubdate: Wed, 17 Feb 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Authors: Azam Ahmed and Jim Yardley


MORELIA, Mexico - Pope Francis delivered his most searing indictment 
of the Mexican underworld Tuesday, encouraging the nation's youth to 
value themselves and resist the temptation to join forces with 
"criminal organizations that sow terror."

Since his arrival Friday, Francis has made no secret of his desire to 
challenge the drug syndicates that have corroded Mexican life for 
decades. He commanded bishops to be more proactive in facing down the 
scourge of narcotics and denounced gangs as dealers of death.

On Tuesday, in the cartel bastion of Michoacan, he mounted his most 
full-throated assault, imploring young people not to lose faith and 
become the "mercenaries of other people's ambitions."

"I understand that often it is difficult to feel your value when you 
are continually exposed to the loss of friends or relatives at the 
hands of the drug trade, of drugs themselves, of criminal 
organizations that sow terror," he told a youth gathering in Morelia, 
the capital of Michoacan. "It is hard to feel the wealth of a nation 
when there are no opportunities for dignified work, no possibilities 
for study or advancement, when you feel your rights are being 
trampled on, which then leads you to extreme situations."

Borrowing from his playbook in Italy, where he has chastised the 
Mafia and other criminal groups with equally fiery words, the pope 
has sought to leverage the religiosity of Roman Catholics in Mexico 
to drive a wedge between youth and the cartels that use them to fill 
their ranks. Yet his speech was also notable for what he did not say, 
but alluded to: the government failures that let the drug trade persist.

"It is a lie to believe that the only way to be young is to entrust 
oneself to drug dealers or others who do nothing but sow destruction 
and death," he said. "Jesus would never ask us to be hit men; rather, 
he calls us to be disciples and friends. He would never send us out 
to death, but rather, everything in him speaks of life."

The narcotics trade and the violence, corruption and chaos associated 
with it have left more than 100,000 people dead or missing in the 
last 10 years, despite huge government campaigns.

While Francis chose Michoacan to make his statement, there are at 
least half a dozen states that would also have suited his purpose, 
places where the rule of law is scarcely visible. In Mexico, some 98 
percent of murders are never solved, and crimes are seldom reported. 
Young people are easily lured into wrongdoing.

While Francis avoided direct criticism of leaders, the subtext of his 
comments took aim at the state, whose failures give youth few 
alternatives. "Government policies and structural problems leave them 
with really no choice," said Jorge Chabat of the Center for Research 
and Teaching in Economics, a research institute in Mexico. "Added to 
that, there is very little chance they will get caught or punished."

The pontiff arrived for Mass at a Morelia stadium Tuesday to find a 
capacity crowd in a state of joyous tumult. Loudspeakers blared, a 
Mexican band played, and priests and seminarians danced in conga 
lines. Nuns waved blue pompoms. Francis circled the stadium in a golf 
cart to cries of "Papa, Papa!"

But the festive atmosphere gave way to a speech packed with somber 
observations. It offered a nuanced glimpse at the psyche of many 
Mexicans, who feel a deep cynicism in daily life that can border on apathy.

"Faced with this reality, the devil can overcome us with one of his 
favorite weapons: resignation," Francis said at the Mass. "A 
resignation which not only hinders our looking to the future, but 
also thwarts our desire to take risks and to change."

Entering another stadium on Tuesday evening, he was greeted by 
thousands waving flags and singing, with shouts of "Ole, ole, ole, 
Francis" echoing through the arena. Perhaps catching that enthusiasm, 
he offered a message of hope along with his warnings, and urged 
everyone to continue dreaming because they were the wealth of the country.

Whether the pope's campaign will have an effect remains to be seen. 
Some analysts doubted there would be any change. Pope John Paul II 
also spoke about the ills of narcotics trafficking.

But many of the youth in Michoacan took hope. "Many of us have 
suffered extortion, and many have suffered the loss of loved ones due 
to drug violence," said Karla Martinez, 25. "For him to come here, 
it's like saying that we're not alone."

Others think the bully pulpit of the church and Francis's popularity 
could make some Mexicans think twice before signing themselves over 
to cartels, given the strength of religion in the family structure 
here. "The church can play a pretty significant role in combating 
organized crime in Mexico, as it did in Italy, by stigmatizing those 
who enter into the drug trade and especially those who resort to 
violence," said David Shirk, a University of San Diego professor. 
"Their devout mamas won't like it."

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis bluntly criticized human 
trafficking, singling out not only smuggling networks, but also the 
Argentine government for failing to protect victims. As pope, he 
condemned Mafia activity during a ceremony in Rome and listened to a 
recitation of the names of 800 people killed by organized crime. He 
has rebuked Italy's two most violent syndicates, the Camorra in 
Naples and the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria. His outrage has spilled out 
with a biblical fury.

In Mexico, the pope told bishops that pastors could not "hide behind 
anodyne denunciations," but must show "prophetic courage." He added 
that the Mexican church must embrace families and "the fringes of 
human existence" so that people can "escape the raging waters that 
drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand 
before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets 
filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened."

Veronica Calderon contributed reporting from Morelia, and Paulina 
Villegas from Mexico City.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom