Pope John Paul II came to southern Mexico today, bringing the message of Catholicism to the descendants of the long ago converted Aztec and Zapotec Indians.
The pontiff also called for a "bold, profoundly innvaive transformation" to overcome conditions of rural poverty "without waiting any longer," a declaration that brought applause from the generally reserved Indians.
In a cross-cultural arrival scene that was part Christian ceremony, part pagan ritual and part Hollwood, the papal entourage, traveling in three helicopters, descended in a cloud of dust and deafening noise in the courtyard of an ancient rural monastery.
About 10,000 Indians, many of whom said they had walked for days to reach this dry, dusty valley in the state of Oaxaca watched John Paul climb the stairs of an Aztec-style dais hung with the mystic symbol of the Aztec sun god.
Dancers in traditional peasant and Aztec costumes, performed below him and then climbed the high stairs to lay gifts at his feet. Following the spectacuar "dance of the Plumes," the Pope was presented with a towering, multicolored feather headdress, which he obligingly put on over his skull cap.
Yesterday, John Paul traveled 65 miles by road from Mexice city to Puebla, Mexico's fourth-largest city, to address a conference of more than 200 Latin American bishops. Working meetings with the bishops were then eliminated, however, because the pope was suffering from what was reported to be extreme fatigue, and he was driven back to Mexico City.
John Paul, 58, has been bubjected to a grueling schedule since his arrival in Mexico Friday.He has stood for hours in the broiling sun, dressed in heavy robes, with little respite from the massive crowds that have followed his every move.
After resting last night, the pontiff rose early this morning to visit a children's hospital before the 35-minute flight to Oaxaca, the capital of the state of the same name.
He then took a helicopter to the ceremony here and returned to Oaxaca for a mass and motorcade through the city.
The state of Oaxaca is one of the poorest in Mexico and has one of the heaviest concentrations of Indians. Many of their forefathers lost their land, and a good bit of their culture, when the Spanish arrived here in the 16th century. The Spaniards discouraged traditional religion and the communal landholding system.
That system revived somewhat with the Mexican Revolution in the early part of this century. Farmers formed ejidos , similar ot communal farms. Many of the Indian peasants today, however, work on large, privately owned farms.
In a speech to the indians, John Paul told them that "while the church defends the legitimate right to provate property," it also recognizes the accompanying responsibilities.
John Paul II quoted his predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, in seeing the situation of Latin America's majority poor as "continuingly alarming, not often better and often worse."
"The pope wants to be your voice," he told them, "the voice of those who cannot speak or who have been silenced, to be a conscience, an invitation to action, to recuperate lost time -- that frequently is time of prolonged suffering and unsatisfied hopes"
While the pope has come into indirect conflict with the government with criticisms of population planning, one of the priority goals of the current Mexican administration, his ideas on land reform were more at home in 20th century Mexico.
"A considerable evil," he said, "is the tendency toward individualism among the rural workers, while a more coordinatied effort, with more solidarity, could serve no small assistance."
John Paul also made the same point he has made repeatedly in his talks in Mexico: Earthly salvation is to be found through "love of the family, a feeling a friendship, help to the more needy, love of peace... a religious life, confidence in and openness to God, cultivation of the love of the Virgin Mary."
He did not preach the Marxist philosophy advocated by some Latin American clergy, but called on the rich to exercise "a human conscience." The voice of God and the voice of the church, he said, affirm that "it is not just, it is not human, it is not Christian to continue in certain clearly unjust situations. One must put into practice real and efficient means, at a local, national and internatonal level."
"It is clear," John Paul said, "that those who can do more are those who have the duty to collaborate in this."
Unlike the fervent crowds in Mexico City and Puebla, the Indians, except for a hearty cheer when the pope landed, were largely subdued in their response to him.
In the long hours of waiting in the hot sun this morning, they gave little response to a priest who stood shouting into a microphone like a cheerleader, "Viva Jesu Cristo."
Many of the crowds the pope has addressed thus far have been worked up like a stadium audience. One popular nonsense cheer, shouted over the microphones, goes "Alabio, Alabao, Alabim, Bom, Ba. El Papa, El Papa. Rah, Rah, Rah."
Many of the Indians seemed to have come more for the event then the message. Substantial numbers started drifting away as the pope spoke and perked up again only when the dancing began.
One Indian, dressed in the white gauzy pants and shirt of peasant Sunday best, said he and his wife, along with 21 others from his mountain village, had walked for two days to get here and spent 24 hours waiting in the monastery grounds.
Asked why, he said, "Because the pope is the leader of the church, and the church invited us to come."