Reflections by an international delegation to Chiapas in January 2000. The delegation included 5 lay people and 11 religious, based mostly in Rome.

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We announce to you what we have seen with our eyes,
heard with our ears, touched with our hands·(1 John 1)

We have experienced the anguish of a people in a Diocese which had journeyed with their Bishop during forty years and who lived out to the utmost the pastoral theology of Vatican II. The future of this faith community is in jeopardy because both Bishops are leaving the Diocese. Bishop Samuel Ruiz, the inspiration and driving force of the pastoral journey, having reached the age of 75, offered his resignation from the diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas, on November 3, 1999. Bishop Raul Vera Lopez, O.P. who was named coadjutor four years ago with the right of succession was transferred to a diocese north of Mexico in December of the same year.

During our visit to San Cristobal de Las Casas, we participated in the Theological Pastoral Encounter, From the Second Vatican Council to the Third Millennium. The encounter was attended by men, women and children, indigenous people and mestizos from the seven pastoral zones which make up the diocese. There were also representatives from various dioceses of the country and of Latin America, international, inter-religious and ecumenical delegations from Canada, the USA and Europe. The Pastoral Encounter allowed everybody to relive in various ways the historical pilgrimage which the Church of San Cristobal has travelled over the past 40 years.

During our stay there we witnessed:

Bishop Samuel Ruiz made PEACE a central point of his pastoral work as Bishop of San Cristóbal. This was highlighted when he was named by consensus mediator in the conflict that exploded in 1994 with the indigenous uprising and when he was appointed President of the National Commission of Mediation.

As active participants in the Theological Pastoral Encounter, we saw with our own eyes, we heard with our own ears and touched the realities of the journey that the local Church of San Cristobal had undertaken since Vatican II. The Encounter dealt with the following themes:

  1. The Church's pilgrimage and the People of God.
  2. The inculturation of the Gospel and the indigenous church.
  3. Ecumenism at the service of the poor.
  4. Solidarity and civil society: sign of the times.
  5. Option for the poor and human rights: option for peace.
Another event which challenged us was the play called, Controversy of Valladolid, which deals with Bartolomé de Las Casas' defence, five hundred years ago, of the human dignity of indigenous peoples. The significance of the play was heightened by the fact that it was performed in the Church of St. Dominic, in the very city where Bartolomé de las Casas was the first bishop. Listening to his words in defence of indigenous peoples reminded us that his prophetic stance is still relevant in today's world where so many peoples and races continue to be marginalised and excluded.

Our experience in Chiapas leaves us with the following hopes:

The culmination of the whole experience was the concluding Eucharist with the participation of over 20,000 people including members of all the indigenous groups in the diocese. Most impressive was the participation of approximately 15,000 people who came in procession from different parts of the diocese. The Eucharist was a visible sign of the 40 years of inculturation of the Church of San Cristóbal. The indigenous people and their culture had a prominent place in the liturgy. Even during this celebration, some leaders among them expressed profound apprehension and concern for the security and the life of their people; they could accept the retirement of Bishop Samuel which was expected but expressed great sorrow at the removal of Bishop Raul as his successor. Basically, they are afraid of the political and military repercussions on their lives once both bishops have left the diocese.

Our experience in Chiapas calls us to make known a new image of the Church and a new image of the Bishop as pastor. The Church we experienced in San Cristóbal could be a model for the Church in this new millennium. This experience has also challenged us to reach out in solidarity with the poor and the excluded in our own respective contexts and we extend this call to all those who read this statement.

May Justice and Peace prevail in Chiapas

Signed by the 16 members of the delegation, January 25, 2000

Ana Maria Martinez, M.M.B.
Council General of the Mercy Missionaries of Berriz

Brendan Curran, O.P.
Representative of the Province of St. Albert the Great, Order of Preachers, USA,

Fabio Bianchi
Member of Support Latin America (SAL), Rome, Italy

Antonio Salonico
Member of Support Latin America (SAL), Rome, Italy

Claudia Alberto
Member of Support Latin America (SAL), Rome, Italy

Chiara Epifani
Member of Support Latin America (SAL), Rome, Italy

Rita Murri
Member of Support Latin America (SAL), Rome, Italy

Ferdinand Warner, O.P.
Promoter of Justice and Peace for Latin America, Order of Preachers

Ignacio Harding, O.F.M.
Co-Director of Franciscans International in New York, USA

Philippe Le Blanc, O.P.
Promoter of Justice and Peace for North America, Order of Preachers

Miguel Angel Sanchez, O.P.
Representative for Justice and Peace in Europe, Pax Christi International
Vice-President of the Federation of Human Rights, Spain
General Secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace in Spain

Pablo Romo Cedano, O.P.
Promoter of Justice and Peace for the Order of Preachers, Rome, Italy

Rosa Martha Gonzalez Navarro, F.M.A.
Representative of the Major Superior of the Auxilliary Sisters of Mary

Santiago Fernandez Garcia,F.M.S.
Promoter of Justice and Peace, Marists Member of the Office of Solidarity of the Marist Brothers in Rome, Italy

Rose Fernando, F.M.M.
Promoter of Justice and Peace, Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary
Member of the Commission of Justice and Peace
for the Union of Major Superiors of Men and Women, Rome, Italy

Viktor Hofstetter, O.P.
Promoter of Nuns, Order of Preachers, Rome, Italy

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