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Ancient beliefs clash with strict traditional Catholic teachings in Mexico


The following ran in the March 19, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. SMU Theologian Charles E. Curran provided expertise for this story.

March 23, 2012

By Alfredo Corchado

LA BOQUILLA, Mexico — Past the dirt-swept roads here, beyond herds of cattle stricken by a deadly drought and amid fears over rising violence, is a place where many residents seek spiritual guidance. It’s not the Catholic Church.

It’s the humble green-colored home of Gertrudis Maciel, otherwise known as Doña Tula. For the past 50 years residents from this northern region of Durango state, with a large population of immigrants living in North Texas, have flocked to this folk healer seeking relief for everything from evil eye to the most devastating drought in 70 years.

“Doña Tula is our closest thing to God,” said Maria Teresa Luna Valenzuela, 30, who prayed for an end to the drought and a good harvest for her family of four. “She provides answers and comfort when we most need it. She’s one of us.”

As Mexicans await Pope Benedict VI’s visit this Friday, Doña Tula serves as a sobering reminder of why the Catholic Church finds itself at a crossroads. While Benedict seeks to return to more conservative practices, parishioners demand more liberties.

The pope arrives Friday in the central state of Guanajuato and during his March 23-26 visit is expected to call for a return to strict traditional values, church officials have said, an issue that often clashes with modernity and long-held ancient beliefs in Mexico.

 “There is no doubt that [following traditional] beliefs is a big challenge in Mexico, as it is a problem in many parts of the world,” said the Rev. Charles E. Curran, a moral theologian at Southern Methodist University. “Parishioners are arguing against celibacy and for ordained women, even as the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict VI remain adamantly opposed about not changing traditional beliefs.”...