Pope John Paul II left Mexico for Rome Thursday, completing a three-nation pilgrimage to the Americas. Before departing, the pontiff took part in a ceremony that continued a central theme of the papal visit: honoring Mexico's indigenous people.
A mariachi band serenaded Pope John Paul II as he left the Papal Nunio in Mexico City early Thursday en route to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. There, he presided over a ceremony beatifying two Mexican Indians from the southern state of Oaxaca, who worked to stamp out non-Christian religious practices and who were killed by angry villagers in the year 1700.
The pope said Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Angeles remained faithful to the true and living God, and rejected all [pagan] idols. He added that they serve as an example of how indigenous people can maintain their cultures while serving as children of God. The Catholic Church regards the two men as martyrs, but their story is a reminder for some of the heavy-handed tactics the Church employed in centuries past to convert the native peoples of the Americas to Catholicism.
Even so, the beatification of the two Zapotec Indians, one of several steps towards sainthood, is viewed by many Mexicans as an honor for the country's indigenous people. Arturo Reyes traveled to Mexico City from Oaxaca to witness the ceremony.
Mr. Reyes says the beatification is very important, since it elevates indigenous people in Mexico who, until now, have been marginalized in the country.
The ceremony was Pope John Paul's final official act before departing Mexico, completing his fifth visit to the overwhelmingly-Catholic country. From the moment he arrived Tuesday, millions of faithful followed his every move; among them, a weeping Beatriz Sanchez, who said the pontiff's visit was a miracle.
Ms. Sanchez says her granddaughter has waited for years for a kidney transplant. This morning, she says, her family got word of a donor and that she gives thanks to the pope and to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
John Paul's pilgrimage to the Americas began last week in Canada and continued in Guatemala before his arrival in Mexico. Mexico appears to occupy a special place in the pontiff's heart. Before departing, he said he is leaving Mexico but will never be absent.