Indigenous people of Mexico demand apology from Pope on eve of visit

Popemobiles that will be used to transport Pope Francis are seen during an event at the presidential hangar in preparation for the Pope's visit to Mexico City.Reuters

Pope Francis will officially authorise the use of indigenous languages in Catholic liturgies when he visits Mexico later this week. It is expected to be one of several such gestures he will make.

The Vatican said the Pope will present the language decree when he celebrates a special service for indigenous people in Chiapas state next Monday.

It is hoped this and other moves in Mexico will go some way to healing the hurt left by centuries of pain and conflict, some of which is certain to emerge during the visit.

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, has already accused the Catholic Church of being complicit in the killing of more than 24 million indigenous people.

Thirty indigenous communities of Michoacan have released a statement calling on the Pope to apologise for what happened to their people during the Spanish invasion of the Americas in the 16th century.

"For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted," the council said in a statement reported by Telesur. "Within this framework, the Catholic Church has historically been complicit and allies of those who invaded our land."

The Purepechas communities from Michoacan called on the Pope to publicly apologise for the Church's role in their sufferings.

The council is also blaming Catholic missionaries for imposing a culture, language, religion and other European values on the people of Mexico.

"The Bible was the ideological weapon of the Conquerors," they said in the statement released in the run-up to the visit, describing the Spanish intervention and invasion of the Americas as one of the biggest acts of genocide in history.

"The arrival of the Europeans meant the interruption and destruction of various original civilisations, which had their unique ideas and concepts of the world, our own government, writings, languages, education, religion and philosophy," the council said.

The council also said the "European invaders" caused the death of 95 per cent of the the total indigenous population within 130 years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes. Before the Spaniards arrived in the Mexican region, there were about 25.2 million indigenous people. After 1623, fewer than 700,000 were left.

In a message to the people of Mexico this week, Pope Francis said he was travelling as a "missionary of mercy and peace".

In a video message in his native Spanish, the Pope said he wants to embrace all Mexican people, especially those who suffer. 

He said: "Would you like me to share with you one of my greatest wishes? It is to be able to visit the home of the Virgin Mary. Like one of her many children, I will go up to the Mother and lay at her feet all that I carry in my heart. It's wonderful to be able to visit the maternal home and feel the tenderness of her benevolent presence. There, I will look into her eyes and beg her to never stop looking upon us with mercy, because she is our Mother in Heaven. From this moment, it is to her that I entrust my journey and all of you, my dear Mexican brothers and sisters."