Bishop’s Death Colors Pope’s Rural Visit With Sadness : Tragedy: John Paul attends a service to mourn the Mexico cleric who died in a plane crash.


Along a provincial main street draped by bougainvillea and feathery orange flamboyants, Pope John Paul II came in sadness Friday to pray at a church dressed for joy.

For one of the world’s most public men, a visit to the Mexican outback became a private, family instant of shared grief.

It wasn’t planned that way. Friday should have been the jubilant day of a lifetime for the ramshackle capital of poor, rural Chiapas state in the extreme Mexican south that is a funnel for Central American refugees bound for the Rio Grande. Then something went wrong.

Luis Miguel Canton Marin, 45, bishop of Tapachula, was killed Thursday in an air crash with 20 other Catholics en route to see their Pope. On final approach to the airport here, their plane fell short of the runway; 17 others survived.


On Friday, the Pope made a mourner’s stop at Tuxtla Gutierrez’s San Marcos Cathedral, its newly painted walls glistening almost painfully white in the morning sunshine. The pontiff bent slowly to kiss the bronze crucifix on the lid of Bishop Canton Marin’s coffin.

A great, festive crowd stood restively outside the cathedral, but the inside was dominated by 15 of Canton Marin’s priests and 16 of his relatives when the Pope came.

From the altar, the Bishop of Rome prayed for the Bishop of Tapachula.

“In these times of pain, even though human words don’t have much value, I want to express my strongest compassion for those who weep for their kin,” John Paul said. “Death is not the last word. For those who have faith, life does not end, it is transformed.”

The Pope touched all the mourners, kissing the head of the bishop’s weeping sister, Flor Maria.

Tapachula, on the Mexican border with Guatemala, is a crossing point for Central American refugees fleeing misery and violence. Many hope eventually to make their way to the United States.

Addressing a largely Indian crowd in an outdoor service here, John Paul urged worshipers to persevere in adversity and to actively seek self-help.

“Everyone should act on his own responsibility, without waiting for social . . . or political structures, or the help of others with greater resources,” John Paul said. “Everyone should become capable of initiatives that answer to the just demands of society.”

In Tapachula, Canton Marin’s church feeds about 20,000 of the estimated 80,000 Central American refugees in Chiapas.

At the cathedral, John Paul paused to encourage stunned young priests from Tapachula who had lost their bishop. The Pope was unaware that before his arrival, local officials had refused entry to the cathedral by relatives of others killed in the crash.