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Pope Ends Mexico Tour With Tough Talk : Religion: John Paul orders bishops to work harder. He assails the ‘tepid indifference’ that has weakened the church.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a stiff get-with-it lecture, Pope John Paul II sternly ordered Mexican bishops Saturday to work harder in confronting an urgent national agenda of social and moral priorities without fear of treading on sensitive political toes.

Assert religious freedom, comfort the poor, protect the migrants, reject radical theologies, and combat with deeds the inroads of swelling Protestant denominations, John Paul instructed the 106 bishops who are spiritual leaders of nearly 80 million believers in the world’s largest Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic country.

On the last full day of an eight-day Mexican visit, John Paul sounded at times like a principal rebuking underachieving teachers. Vatican specialists traveling with the Pope called it the toughest papal injunction to bishops of a country since the one John Paul delivered to American prelates in Los Angeles in September, 1987.

John Paul’s Mexican visit, like the one in 1979 that launched his foreign travels, is nominally pastoral, but it inevitably acquired a political edge in a nation whose constitution is strongly anti-clerical.

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Opponents of thaw-seeking President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who fear a return of historic church interventionism in Mexican political life, have criticized the papal visit.

John Paul, however, insists that his church has no interest in politics but must have the freedom to speak out on key issues affecting social justice.

It would be a mistake, he told his bishops, to identify the church with a particular political system. “Nevertheless,” he said, “this does not mean that the church has nothing to say to the political community, to illuminate it from the perspective of Gospel values and criteria.”

Many social and political problems in Mexico today have their roots in morality, he continued. “So is it that Christian life reinforces the family, supports harmony and teaches people to live together with solidarity and freedom according to the demands of justice.”

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John Paul expressed his “great satisfaction” at the improvement of Vatican-Mexican relations under Salinas, and he told the bishops to continue working for the revocation of anti-clerical laws.

“In a state of law, full and effective religious freedom must be at once a fruit and a guarantee of other civil liberties,” the Pope said, urging bishops to vigorous pursuit of a “new evangelization,” the overall theme of his visit.

Referring for the second day to the growth of Protestant denominations, the Pope warned that “many times their success owes to the tepid indifference” of Catholics who give only “weak testimony to the coherence of Christian life.”

Once again affirming his church’s predilection for the poor, the Pope took note of persistent illegal migration to the United States.

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“I urge you to follow ever closer and with ever greater concern and appropriate resources the movement of thousands upon thousands of our brothers and sisters in situations of severed roots, and even danger,” John Paul told the bishops.

In his first visit 11 years ago, the Pope warned Latin American bishops against so-called “liberation theology,” a radical, activist search for social justice that uses some elements of Marxist analysis. He was as forceful the second time around, inveighing Saturday against “theologies of liberation that create concrete risks for the faith and for every Christian life.”

“These mistaken ideas continue generating a spirit of conflict and produce painful divisions,” John Paul said in a warning he reiterated at a meeting with priests, nuns and lay activists.

The 69-year-old Pope flies this morning to the Caribbean island of Curacao.

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