The Catholic Church has issued approval for weekly mass and rituals such as confessions, baptisms, communions and confirmations to be carried out in Tzotzil and Tzeltal, two of the main Mayan indigenous languages spoken in Mexico. The decision is both a way to regain the trust and faith of the aboriginal communities and a part of the Pope’s new approach which is trying to bring the Church closer to the people.
Latin and Spanish have long been the two official languages of the Catholic Church in Mexico. However, the population living in several different parts of the country are not fluent in any of the two, thus making comprehension of the religion and ceremonies much more complicated. Such is the case of the State of Chiapas, where more than half of the citizens speak little Spanish. Indigenous communities in the area are some of the poorest in the country, but their language is now acknowledged by the Vatican.
Along the years, different generations of believers, missionaries and priests have been translating the Bible into some of the aboriginal languages of Mexico. According to religious affairs analyst, Elio Masferrer, church services have been held in unofficial languages for years in Chiapas. However, it took over seven years for the Diocese of San Cristobal to finally get the Vatican to recognise these languages.
According to San Cristobal’s auxiliary bishop, Right Reverend Enrique Diaz, all translations into the aboriginal languages were carried out extremely carefully as a consequence of meticulous study of both the Bible and the words said during the religious ceremonies. He further commented on his belief that having a Latin American Pope helped make this happen.
On the other hand, Elio Masferrer stated that the new recognition from Rome is mainly a strategy to regain followers in a region that has progressively been moving towards more evangelical forms of Christianity. He stated that Rome’s approval will not change the current situation much, although it does point towards a modification in the policies towards indigenous Catholicism.