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The Pope Visits Mexico: An Example for the Chinese in Tibet?

I watched the Pope give his Mass on Telemondo, in Spanish. What an astonishing event.

There in Mayan traditional costumes were hundreds of the faithful. On the platform where the mass was to be held, women came and spoke to the Pope in indigenous languages.

The music was not the high church music of Europe, nor the Gregorian chant of the monastic tradition in Europe, but the music of Popol Vuh, the peoples, with a little of the mariachi tradition of guitars and clarinets thrown in. This was the inclusive church. It was the church of liberation theology.

The pope spoke with an awareness of history. The Mayans addressed him with the Mayan word for Father, Totec, not Papa, as is the custom in Rome.

The Faithful came to the altar and read the liturgy in indigenous languages, alongside the Spanish liturgy.

It was quite amazing and it made me think of Tibet. There the indigenous people, the Tibetans, have been outnumbered by the in-migration of Han Chinese and the Chinese language has replaced the Tibetan language as the official language. History repeats itself on the other side of the world, in Asia.

I could not help but think: How remarkable a model the Pope's visit to Mexico would be for the restoration of Buddhism in Tibet.

This amazing Mass of the Indigenous took place in the oldest diocese in Mexico, where the Church was founded in 1539.

We know from history what took place in the Americas when the Spanish came and conquered the indigenous peoples. The Spanish priests stamped out the indigenous religions and some of their more extreme practices, such as human sacrifice. I would be lying if I said that the New World was a paradise without horrors.

We know that the ancient books of the indigenous were destroyed and the temples were destroyed. All this made me think of a similar history in Tibet, when the Chinese came in 1950. It also made me think of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, a period that lasted from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies.

We know that the Spanish thought that their culture was superior to that of the indigenous peoples, and that the Spanish were bringing the benefits of civilization to those that dwelled in the supposed backwardness and darkness of their own culture, but backwardness is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, the deacons in the indigenous church are often married with children, and the people pay them respect because they have more respect for married men than they do for celibate priests. Perhaps nowhere else on earth has the old tradition of celibate priests been challenged in the Catholic faith.

We know that the Church dominated the Americas for five centuries. We know that to eliminate the worst excesses of the Church, the revolutionaries of Latin America tacked left, to communism.

We know that in the Americas, often the left is as bad as the right. We know that communism brought mixed benefits, and in many cases, abuses, such as in the Cuban prison system with its repression of those who spoke against the regime. We know about this because the great filmmaker Nestor Almendros documented it in his film "Nadie Escuchaba," Nobody Was Listening. Get it on Amazon. I recommend it.

We know that the Chinese Communists considered Tibetan Buddhism to be an obstacle to material advancement in Tibet. We know that they destroyed monasteries and libraries and works of art, because we know the history of the Cultural Revolution and the destruction of the Four Olds.

And yet the practice of the religion persist. The world could see what the Cubans did to political prisoners, but the world does not see, except in limited doses, what the gulag, the laogai, the prison system does to monks and nuns in Tibet.

We know about the rise in immolations of the monks and nuns. We know that the Chinese have a fear of splitting apart and claim that the Dalai Lama is a splittist. But the Dalai Lama wants to repatriate to Tibet and live in a monastery as a private religious person and perhaps a teacher.

I wonder what it would be like if the Dalai Lama, like the Pope, rode in a lama-mobile in the streets of Lhasa and the Faithful were allowed to come and greet him and receive his blessings. I wonder what it would be like if the Dalai Lama were kissing babies in front of the Potala.

And so I pose the question: if the return of the Russian Orthodox Church has not been a threat to the Russian state, when once it was banned under the Soviet Union.

The Pope even went to the Communist island of Cuba last year, before the resumption of normal diplomatic relations with the United States and he met with Catholics in Cuba.

My friend, the scholar Warren Smith, says the Chinese are quite happy with the situation in Tibet. They see it as territory, not as a people with a culture and a religion, and so they miss the point of the people’s suffering.

I interviewed Warren Smith last September in his office in Washington and he told me that he thought Tibet was a done deal. But when I saw the Pope in Mexico, I wonder.

The inclusion of the indigenous has not been a threat to the state in Mexico, because the biggest threat to the state is the drug trade.

I wonder if perhaps Xi Jinping might learn something from the image of the Pope, riding his pope-mobile through the streets of one of Mexico’s poorest provinces and greeting the people and listening to them speak about the realities of their lives.

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