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The Angelus - April 1981
Triumph in Mexico
Reverend Hector L. Bolduc
Reverend Hector L. Bolduc
In this first installment of a three-part series, Father Bolduc recounts the thrilling adventures of His Grace the Archbishop among traditional Catholics south of the border.
THE DEDICATION of the newly aquired church property in El Paso, Texas, by His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, on January 4, 1981, signaled the beginning of what will certainly be known as one of the brightest chapters in the career of the Archbishop. The El Paso property is destined to serve as a minor seminary for Mexican students, and Archbishop Lefebvre's trip to dedicate the future seminary was a stepping-stone for his entry into Mexico.
Four years ago Archbishop Lefebvre was denied entry into Mexico as a result of pressure put on the government by the Bishops of Mexico, who saw his visit as a threat. Having shirked their duties as bishops for years, the last thing they wanted was a visit from a true bishop to whom the faith-starved Catholics of Mexico could turn.
Accompanied by Father Regis Babinet (a native French priest of the Society, who is the new pastor in El Paso), myself and a lay friend, the Archbishop, with his companion from Switzerland, Mr. Rousis, stepped into Mexico at Juarez on January 6. We took a plane at the Juarez airport and flew to Mexico City. There we were joined by Father Jean-Michel Faure, rector of the seminary in Buenos Aires. The Archbishop had obtained his Mexican visa in Switzerland, and the entry was normal and without incident. After a short wait in Mexico City, we flew on to Vera Cruz. Father Manuel Esteban, who had invited the Archbishop to Mexico (and who had visited with us in Dickinson, Texas, some years back), was waiting for us at Vera Cruz with two cars. We drove to Tultopec, where we were scheduled to spend the night. On the way it became clear that we were being followed by two vehicles: the Mexican police had been advised of our arrival, and we were destined to see a lot of them during our three-week stay.
The little town of Ojitlan was the first official stop on our tour. For weeks the people there had been preparing for the visit. Fr. Esteban maneuvered the car along the narrow winding roads like an expert. The Church in Ojitlan has had a tumultuous past. The Bishop of Oaxaca had tried to "update" the Church by placing liberal, progressive priests in the local parish of St. Luke. The people had resisted, especially when the new priests ridiculed and desecrated the statues of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints. The people responded by twice expelling the radical, liberal priests. Pedro Ronquilla, a spokesman for the group, defended the treatment of the liberals with a vigor reminiscent of the martyrs of old. Twice the police responded to complaints of the bishop and interfered, hauling Pedro off to jail! Twice the local populace went en masse to the jail and secured his release. The bishop in desperation assigned a group of Novus Ordo Italian priests to St. Luke. Pedro, knowing that the constitution of Mexico forbids anyone but a native Mexican from officiating at public religious services, made numerous trips to the Papal Nuncio and to the authorities in Mexico City. Because of his complaints the Italian modernists were in turn arrested and removed from Ojitlan. The Church returned to the traditionalists and has remained with them ever since.
When the car arrived at Ojitlan, it was stopped outside the town by a crowd of people who greeted the Archbishop like a conquering hero. There was confetti, fireworks, speeches, flowers and an escort of young boys and girls dressed as shepherds and saints. The Archbishop then transferred to an open car covered with red velvet and driven to the outskirts of the town, accompanied by about 2,000 people. There he walked the remainder of the way to the village church, which perches on the highest point of the village. The streets and buildings were festooned with ribbons, garlands of flowers and other signs welcoming the Archbishop.
His Grace celebrated Mass, followed by the priests of his party. Each Mass was packed and embellished by the singing of hymns, led by Pedro. After lunch, we settled down to work. The Archbishop confirmed one hundred fifty, while I baptized nineteen children. Most of the people there speak an Indian language, making it necessary to have an interpreter in administering some of the sacraments.
The following three days were the same as the first. Masses each day with huge confirmation classes in the morning and afternoon, along with many baptisms and marriages. Each morning several thousand of the faithful would arrive to attend Mass, be confirmed, baptized, or married. As they left, thousands of new arrivals would take their places—a constant flow of pilgrims coming and going.
IT DID NOT TAKE LONG for the Mexican authorities to react to our presence. A minister of the Department of the Interior, accompanied by two aids, soon arrived on the scene to object to Archbishop Lefebvre's presence. During his meeting with the Archbishop, he made known his government's objections. We would hear them often repeated on our trip:
1) the Mexican bishops were putting pressure on the government to expel Archbishop Lefebvre and his party from the country;
2) the Constitution of Mexico forbids church services by clergymen who are not native Mexicans;
3) the Constitution forbids the wearing of religious garb of any kind in public;
4) the Archbishop had entered the country with a valid tourist visa and therefore should restrict his activities to that of a tourist.
The answers to these objections, given by the Archbishop, would also be frequently repeated during the next three weeks:
1) Pope John Paul II had visited Mexico and worn his cassock in public as did those who accompanied him, and performed religious services in public. Neither were they arrested nor deported, or forced to cease wearing their religious garb, nor prevented from officiating at religious services. Was the Constitution of Mexico written for the benefit of a chosen few or was it intended to be applied equally to all?
2) The City of Puebla had recently hosted a conference of bishops from Mexico, North, South and Central America. All bishops attending came on simple tourist visas. All officiated publicly in religious garb. Why, therefore, were we being singled out for persecution?
3) Archbishop Lefebvre had been invited to Mexico by thousands of Mexican Catholics who had in most cases obtained full authority from local civil officials. We had signed, approved documentation with us. In obtaining approval for the visit, the reasons had been clearly set forth. Also, visits of this kind were not unusual for foreign Church officials. Why single us out as exceptions?
Of course we all knew the reasons. The Bishops of Mexico objected to our presence because we were true Catholics. The government, which is Marxist and controlled by Freemasons, were working hand-in-hand with the Mexican Bishops, who are also largely Marxist and Freemasons. It was a simple case of one hand washing the other. The government objected. The Archbishop, wise in diplomacy, acted calmly and firmly, and while threats were made and opposition registered almost daily, we were allowed to stay. It was also made very clear in a report written by members of the Archbishop's party and sent off to the government in Mexico City, that the Archbishop had been invited and greeted by thousands of Mexicans, and was expected to visit thousands more. How would these people (citizens of Mexico) react to the expulsion of the Archbishop? This point was well taken by the government, which shuffled its feet and finally let us stay, but assigned a total of fifty guards to "protect us from the Mexican people"! The real purpose of course was surveillance.
One must not forget that in true Communist style, the press (and all else in Mexico) is controlled by the government. Therefore from the first day of our arrival until our departure, the papers would be filled with articles aimed at discrediting the Archbishop. Everything said at a press conference would appear the next day completely distorted. One journalist, who wrote a tolerably favorable article, told us that unless we paid a fee equal to $1,500 (U.S.), we could expect bad publicity in his next article. We of course had to refuse his offer, and sure enough, his next article was an attack on the Archbishop. So much for the Masons.
Everywhere we marveled at the deep faith of the Mexican people. To assist at Mass or to have their children baptized or confirmed, these people walked as much as one hundred miles through mountains and deserts. As it is their custom to offer a gift to the Bishop, many presented the Archbishop with a (live) chicken or an egg wrapped in a banana leaf or a small sack of rice or beans. All were taken to the kitchen where they ended up on our table. It was not unusual to see three or four chickens, each tied by one leg to a tree outside the kitchen door, waiting for their turn in the pot! This sometimes occurred the very day of the chickens' arrival.
We had set aside four days for Ojitlan, and when we left, people were still arriving. Our departure was as emotional as our arrival, with thousands of Mexicans following the Archbishop to the edge of town and others running alongside the car until they were lost in a trail of dust.
January 10 found us at Oaxaca, where a contingent of government officials awaited, along with a platoon of newsmen. Here, emphasizing our role as tourists, we visited the historical churches and pre-Columbian ruins. We went on to Tlaxiaco to be greeted by two or three thousand of the faithful. Speeches, fireworks, plays and singing were once again the order of the day.
Tlaxiaco consists of a city of 48,000 inhabitants, divided into seven barrios (districts), each having its own mayor and church. Six of these churches are held by traditionalists and the largest by the progressives. We went each day to a different church, where we celebrated Mass, confirmed, baptized, married. The Archbishop visited the market place in Tlaxiaco and the peasants filled his arms with gifts of fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs. Never did we encounter hostility. The Bishop of Oaxaca, who rarely visits Tlaxiaco, came there during Archbishop Lefebvre's visit. He thought to draw the people away from Archbishop Lefebvre by announcing that he would hold confirmation at the Novus Ordo church. I went to the church the morning of the proposed confirmations and, finding the church open, I went in and quietly read my breviary in a pew toward the back of the church. The Bishop of Oaxaca was engaged in giving a provocative talk against Archbishop Lefebvre and the Latin Tridentine Mass. After he finished his harangue, he came forward and said: "All those who have come to be confirmed, step forward." Not one of the twenty-five people in the church (twenty-six, counting me), moved from their pews. At the same time, Archbishop Lefebvre was celebrating Mass for hundreds at the nearby church where he confirmed over two hundred!
It is obvious that a great many Mexicans know there is a difference between the true sacraments and the new.
[Emphasis - The Catacombs]