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A very sad letter from a Dominican brother, used with permission:
I spent my pastoral year working at our mission in Mexico, and I also work with Hispanics here in the states.
As a cult, La Santa Muerte is growing in Mexico and other parts of Latin America and the United States, and it is setting itself up with Temples, “priests”, and so forth, and it is making an attempt to challenge Catholicism, which is not silent about it in Mexico or here. I know, for example, that Card. George and other bishops in this country have spoken out forcefully against it as have bishops in Mexico. I myself as a deacon and in my adult catechism classes have preached against it. Sometimes, members of La Santa Muerte have attacked Catholic churches, and some people have destroyed their temples. The problem is complicated.We tend to think of Mexico as a Catholic country, and it is — or was — in a way. But, as you know, things are not always as they seem. In the first place, it is not always and everywhere a well-catechized country, much to our shame. The faith is often not more than superficial. Also, there is the Mexican Revolution, the Cristero War, and 70 years of anti-Catholic legislation and rule by the PRI. In the center of the country — Guanajuato, Colima, Jalisco, Edomex, Puebla, for example — the faith is much deeper, but in the north and the south it is not so strong and never really has been, although it varies from place to place. I found in the north, along the border, a great deal of indifference to the faith. There is also a lot of superstition and syncretism.
Some of this is the fault of the Church. Often priests are elevated to a new social status by ordination, especially when they come from poor families, and they act like it. They rarely appear in public as priests (partially a left-over of seventy years of laws against wearing religious garb in public), they wear fine clothes, and they drive fine cars. This is, of course, a generalization, but the exceptions prove the rule. Further, it seems to me that the Church hierarchy has never really gotten over its loss of political power with the coming of the Mexican Revolution and the fall of Porfiriato, and they should worry more about their moral voice rather than a political one. But the other problem, as you rightly pointed out in another article, is a crisis of holiness and, to be honest, a willingness to shed ones blood as a witness to the faith.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for religious. Last year, in the state of Guerrero, the vocations director and two seminarians were pulled from their car and shot numerous times. The bishops and religious superiors in Mexico have stated that they will not pay ransoms for religious abducted by the narcotraficantes. And make no mistake, they are being threatened more all the time. In Juarez, sisters I know have narrowly missed being killed, and priests and religious who work with the poor are in very real danger, in addition to what they describe as living and working in war zone. In Tijuana, the cloistered nuns would not let me walk around the block after Vespers because, even in my habit, it was no longer safe to do so, and they and the active sisters talked about the priests and religious being threatened in the archiocese. Dioceses in Texas have received priests whose lives are in very real danger. The greater sadness, though, is that some bishops are quietly paying bribes to defend their priests, and those that dare to speak out are often exiled — supposedly for their safety. And the few bishops who dare to speak out, such as Bp. Raul Vera, OP, of Saltillo, receive fairly regular death threats. One day somebody will make good on them, confident that the government will be helpless to do anything about it. There are heroic and saintly voices in Mexico, but if the Church is to win the hearts and minds of the people, and ultimately the salvation of their souls, then the Church there must itself be of one mind and one heart, and that mind and heart must be the mind and heart of Christ — and Christ on the cross, if need be.
Read more below the jump:
On a different note, the government is losing the war, I think. Tijuana, for example, is presenting itself as a success story, but there have already been more narco-related murders there this year than at the same time last year, which means they are headed for an astounding total. And of course the battle, whether between the government and the narcos, between rival cartels, or even between rival factions of the same cartel, is spiralling into other parts of Mexico that have until now not really witnessed this kind of violence. And it is not just Mexico. According to religious and others I know in Guatemala, it is on the verge of morphing into a narco state. The government is very unstable.
I am not hopeless, but the reality is certainly grim. May the Lord and our Blessed Lady guide us and keep us.