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Mexico Forgives Pope Francis After ‘Mexicanization’ Spat

The term seemed to strike a nerve in Mexico, which in the early years of its military-led campaign against criminal cartels worried that it would suffer a “Colombianization” of drug-related violence.

by Andrea Noel
Feb 25 2015, 4:05pm

Photo by Riccardo De Luca/AP

Mexico on Tuesday sent its ambassador in the Vatican City to formally complain over a term used by Pope Francis that was meant to describe a Mexico-style spiral into violence related to the drug trade in the Catholic leader's native Argentina.

"Hopefully we have time to prevent a Mexicanization," Pope Francis wrote in a private note to an NGO in Buenos Aires, referring to the ongoing drug war in Mexico, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

"I was talking to some Mexican bishops and it is a thing of terror," the pope wrote.

Pope Francis addressed the letter to a longtime friend, Gustavo Vera, who heads an organization that works to combat human trafficking and sweatshop abuse. The group, La Alameda, posted the pope's letter to its website on Saturday.

Argentina's Soy Beans Feed the World But Might Be Making Locals Sick. Read more here.

The Mexican government reacted with indignation to what it called the stigmatizing use of the word "Mexicanization."

"The challenge of drug trafficking is a shared challenge, and it's a challenge for which Mexico has made great efforts," said Jose Antonio Meade, Mexico's foreign affairs minister, in statements on Monday.

Meade added that the pope's letter had caused "sadness and worry."

The pope's comments, although private, were not exactly exaggerations.

The term seemed to especially strike a nerve in Mexico, which in the early years of its military-led campaign against criminal cartels worried that it would suffer a "Colombianization" of drug-related violence. Pope Francis's statements seemed to suggest the standard on drug violence in the region is now Mexico and no longer Colombia.

On Vatican Radio on Wednesday, the Holy See's press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that Pope Francis did not intend to hurt the feelings of the Mexican people, whom "he loves very much."

"The note shows clearly that the Pope intended nothing else but to comment on the gravity of the phenomenon of drug trafficking afflicting Mexico and other Latin American countries," Lombardi said.

Mexico — home of the world's second largest Catholic population after Brazil — published a statement Tuesday after its Vatican City ambassador Mariano Palacios Alcocer met with Vatican diplomat Antoine Camilleri.

The statement said the government accepted the Holy See's clarification over the letter to Vera. "The Holy See considers the term 'Mexicanization' in no way to be intentionally stigmatizing toward the Mexican people," the release read.

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The pope's comments, although private, were not exactly exaggerations.

Catholic bishops and priests in Mexico are frequently the subjects of threats, violent attacks, kidnappings, and even executions. Mexican bishops last year pled for peace and called the violence facing the country a "national crisis," according to Catholic News Service.

At least three Catholic priests were killed in the violence-plagued southern state of Guerrero in 2014, where 43 teachers college students went missing in September after a police and cartel attack. One of the victims, Ugandan priest John Ssenyondo, had been missing for months before his body was discovered in a clandestine grave in Guerrero in November.

In Argentina, drug-related violence in increasingly worrying authorities and human-rights groups.

A recent VICE News documentary about the violent city of Rosario, Argentina's third largest, shows how deeply organized crime groups have penetrated poor neighborhoods with drugs and weapons, leading to spiking homicide rates.

Rosario: Violence, Drugs, and Football. Watch the VICE News doc here.

Follow Andrea Noel on Twitter @MetabolizedJunk.