Thursday, May 26

Franco Coppola: The Apostolic Nuncio in Mexico: “López Obrador asked the Church to intervene to resolve the violence”

Franco Coppola, apostolic nuncio to Mexico, during an interview with EL PAÍS in Mexico City on May 3.
Franco Coppola, apostolic nuncio to Mexico, during an interview with EL PAÍS in Mexico City on May 3.seila montes

The Pope’s man in Mexico was, until very recently, an almost unknown figure. He did not participate in activities outside his religious agenda, nor did he position himself on the national political scene. But the murder in March of eight people – alleged hitmen – who appeared beheaded in the state of Michoacán struck a chord with him. After seeing the images sent to him by his colleagues in the area, the Italian Franco Coppola (Lecce, 64 years old) undertook his first trip with a political tone. The apostolic nuncio in Mexico set foot on April 23 in Aguililla, a town nestled in the Tierra Caliente region and besieged by criminal groups for years. “President [Andrés Manuel López Obrador] He asked the Catholic Church to intervene to help with the issue of violence, ”he explains in an interview with EL PAÍS.

Coppola receives this newspaper at the Nunciature, located in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the urban center of the capital. He is not afraid of covid-19, he says, because he already passed it with almost no symptoms last year and was also vaccinated on his last visit to the Vatican. His concern is now elsewhere. He has been with a number in his mind for months: he lives in a country where a hundred homicides are registered every day. “What happens to him is terrible, the suffering of the people is very great,” he says.

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He arrived in Mexico in 2016, but only now has he made the leap into the political arena because in previous administrations “the less they talked about, the better they were,” he says. The diplomatic representative defends the rhetoric of the current government in relation to that of the other six-year terms, especially that of Enrique Peña Nieto. “When I arrived in Mexico the official story was that this situation [de la violencia] it did not exist ”, he assures. The change happened with López Obrador’s victory in the presidential elections in July 2018. Before taking office, he explains, the Morena leader wrote a letter to the Pontiff asking for the help of the Catholic institution to appease the conflict. “For me it was an advance to realize that there is a problem, it is worse to continue thinking that there is not.”

The exit from the political closet by Coppola came from the hand of the bishop of Apatzingán, Cristóbal Ascencio, who told him, in a religious meeting in April, about the siege that the population of Michoacán is experiencing in the face of the organized crime dispute over land. A crude story that served as a trigger to get down to work. “The bishop had already sought to inform the federal government” without success, he says. “So with the contacts that I have, a meeting with the Secretary of Security was facilitated. [Rosa Icela Rodríguez] and the president was informed ”. Since then, the Catholic Church has been in continuous dialogue with the Executive. “Neither I nor the Church can change things from today to tomorrow, but we are trying to help Mexico get out of that situation,” he says.

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The apostolic nuncio in Mexico, Franco Coppola, visits Aguililla, in Michoacán.
The apostolic nuncio in Mexico, Franco Coppola, visits Aguililla, in Michoacán.Monica Gonzalez / The Country

The way out of an already entrenched crisis in the country does not have a clear path, he says. He does not even believe that the will of the Government is enough to face it. “The Mexican State has recognized that it alone cannot, that it needs everyone’s help. And it is not enough for the president to say ‘we all come together’, the solution will be found only if we collaborate ”, he adds. The Vatican representative admits, however, that the current context, less than a month after the largest elections in the country’s history, is not the most favorable. “The elections are a moment of division, until they pass it is useless to seek joint action, but they are an opportunity for the people to speak out and elect good authorities.”

The Church is not affiliated with any political party in Mexico, he explains, because no current formation truly represents Catholic values. The call he makes in the face of the elections is limited to asking Mexicans to vote with conscience and responsibility. “Sometimes poverty makes you sell your vote, that doesn’t have to happen. People need to know that the rescue of their country begins with their vote. It is a moment in which we can change society by electing authorities that truly represent us ”.

The Vatican has a great affinity with López Obrador, says Coppola. And it shows in their positions. The Italian diplomat aligns himself with the president even on the most controversial issues, such as support for Félix Salgado Macedonio, a man close to the president, accused of rape and sexual abuse. “There is no sentence against him,” he defends. “In a world like today, it is very easy today to destroy a person, you have to be careful. I’m not saying that you have to silence or cover up, but be careful ”.

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The Church in Mexico has been harshly criticized for how it has handled allegations of sexual abuse against its own members. And among the figures most singled out for mismanagement, according to the victims, is the nuncio. Coppola admits that the problem of pedophilia may have alienated many people from the institution, which has lost 5% of affiliates in the country during the last decade. But it is not the only thing that has generated rejection, he says. “The world has changed its way of communicating, it has changed its language and values. And the Church has not. Here we are a little behind ”, he concludes.

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