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In Chiapas, Mayans get Mass, sacraments in two of their languages
Catholic News Service photo
Francisca Torres Collazo prays at an altar in her home in Zinacantan, an indigenous village outside San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico. Torres Collazo is a Tzeltale, descended from the Mayans. Many of the indigenous Catholics in Chiapas state live in remote areas and are ministered to by permanent deacons.
Catholic News Service photo
Francisca Torres Collazo prays at an altar in her home in Zinacantan, an indigenous village outside San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico. Torres Collazo is a Tzeltale, descended from the Mayans. Many of the indigenous Catholics in Chiapas state live in remote areas and are ministered to by permanent deacons.
Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Mayans who speak Tzotzil and Tzeltal will now be able to attend Mass in their language and even be married in a Catholic ceremony that follows their native tongue.

Pope Francis has approved the translations of the prayers for Mass and the celebration of sacraments into the two indigenous languages used in Chiapas state, said Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas.

The translations into Tzotzil and Tzeltal -- two Mayan tongues spoken by an estimated 650,000 people -- include the prayers used for Mass, marriage, baptisms, confirmations, confessions, ordinations and the anointing of the sick.

Bishop Arizmendi said Oct. 6 that the texts, which took approximately eight years to translate, would be used in his diocese and the neighboring Archdiocese of Tuxtla Gutierrez.

Mass has been celebrated in the diocese in recent years with the assistance of translators -- except during homilies -- Bishop Arizmendi said in an article in the newspaper La Jornada.

Bishop Arizmendi called the approval of the translations "a signal that the pope wants us to be closer to our communities," reported La Jornada.

"It's a source of great joy for our community, because it gives them the confidence that their language is recognized by the church and that it can be used in celebrations with complete security ... doctrinally as well as culturally," he said.

The translations attempt to take the sacramental part of the church closer to communities that have been converting to evangelical congregations in large numbers.

Census figures from 2010 show southern Mexico's Chiapas state -- where the two dioceses are located -- as the least-Catholic in the country, with 58 percent of residents professing Catholicism.

"Mass has been said in indigenous languages throughout Latin America for several decades now," said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"It is part of concerted effort, known as inculturation, to retain indigenous Catholics in (Latin America) who have left the church for Pentecostal and evangelical churches at higher rates than (the) general population, especially in Mexico and Guatemala," he said.

The use of the languages is not without precedent for the church in Chiapas. The late Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who led the San Cristobal de Las Casas Diocese from 1960 to 2000 and championed indigenous causes, learned to speak four Mayan languages.

Chiapas ranks as Mexico's poorest state with impoverished indigenous populations -- although it gained worldwide attention for the 1990s Zapatista rebellion. La Jornada reported nearly 63 percent of the people in the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas -- spread over 1,500 settlements -- are indigenous.

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