Pope Francis asked Mexico's indigenous population for forgiveness over the exclusion they have suffered as he led an open-air Mass in native languages in impoverished Chiapas state, reports AFP on Seven News.
The Pope said a short phrase in one of the southern region's native tongues in a sign of his effort to reach out to indigenous communities of the country's poorest and least Catholic state.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to a sports field yesterday in the southern city of San Cristobal de las Casas for the service, as women dressed in embroidered dresses led biblical readings and hymns in the Chol, Tzotzil and Tzeltal languages.
"On many occasions, in a systematic and organised way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society," the Pontiff said.
"Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them. How sad this is," he said.
"How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, 'Forgive me!'"
Francis issued a decree allowing indigenous languages to be used during Catholic Masses. More than a quarter of Chiapas's population speaks an indigenous language.
"If the church is to stop the hemorrhaging of indigenous (populations) in Chiapas and across Latin America, it must offer more Masses in indigenous languages and recruit indigenous priests, who are very small in numbers," Andrew Chesnut, religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told AFP.
While Mexico is the world's second most populous Catholic nation after Brazil, with 82 percent of its population of 122 million identifying with the religion, only 58 percent are loyal to the Vatican in Chiapas.
Francis also used the Mass to warn that the Earth faces "one of the greatest environmental crises in world history," saying that indigenous people have much to teach about how to "interact harmoniously with nature".
Photo: Francis at Chiapas Mass (AFP)
Pope Francis asks indigenous Mexicans for forgiveness (AFP/Seven News)
Pope to the Indios: “Forgiveness! Today’s world needs you!” (Vatican Insider)