Francis’ visit implies unbudgeted expenditure
BY EDUARDO VERDUGO
The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY – While Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico doesn’t represent any economic expense for the Mexican Bishops Conference (CEM), state and municipal governments have paid an unbudgeted part of their public resources.
Monsignor Eugenio Andrés Lira Rugarcía, general coordinator of the pope’s Mexican visit, said that the most difficult task is covering the people’s needs that attend the events in which the pontiff will be present.
“Something really important that should remain clear is that the papal visit doesn’t have a high price for the Church or for anyone, because the visit doesn’t cost anything. What does cost money are the services provided to the people that come to the events,” Lira Rugarcía said.
Lira Rugarcía, who is also the general CEM secretary, said that they don’t have a fund for apostolic trips and that the majority of them are paid for by private sector and government donations.
“When a trip is announced … immediately many people begin to call and ask how they can help and we must thank them. Businessmen who are able to help are doing so,” the CEM secretary said.
Religious analyst, Bernardo Barranco confirmed Lira Rugarcía’s statement. “More than 80 percent of the costs are covered by state, federal and the Mexico City government. This includes remodeling streets, building walls and repaving highways and avenues. Ciudad Juárez looks like a five star hotel,” the monsignor said.
“The resources used by the Catholic Church and the donations it receives are issues that should be made transparent. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of transparency and it is worrisome that the Church, authorities and donors all handle this matter very discreetly,” Lira Rugarcía said.
In an interview, Barranco asked: is the visit a business, an economic benefit or both?
By telephone, Lira Rugarcía explained that the economic donations that the parishioners are in charge of will be managed from the churches, parishes and dioceses. The proceeds are sent to the CEM, which is in charge of administering the resources.
Part of the donations will be spent on new ornaments to be worn by the bishops in the celebrations led by Pope Francis, whose cost reaches close to 800,000 pesos ($42,565), according to the Executive Secretary for Liturgical Celebrations, Ricardo Valenzuela.
In the case of the diocese, they will have to absorb the costs for mass services. This implies the wine, communion bread, floral arrangements, candles, the sacristan (the person that assists the priest) and the choir.
“The Mexican Bishop Conference will award all bishops who attend a chasuble, mitre and a stole and every diocese will receive a stole. We are only giving one ornament to the bishops, who will have to bring it with them to all of the pope’s events, with the intention of saving,” Monsignor Lira Rugarcía said.
Regarding the transportation, food and accommodations, the religious group benefits from the support of businesses who have offered buses as well as hotel rooms that they will have at their disposal. Another part of the donation includes providing accommodation for people who have o ered to volunteer during the pope’s visit.
To cover the necessities and requirements of the pope, various national and international businesses participated, by means of donations, from his roundtrip flight between Rome and Mexico to the sound equipment for the congregations.
Answering the question he formulated at the beginning of the interview, Bernardo Barranco said that in the last visit of former Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Norberto Rivera and the Legionaries of Christ handled all the finances.
A proof of this is that in the penultimate visit of John Paul II, in January 2002, Rivera had some disagreements with the former papal nuncio in Mexico, Justo Mullor.
The first was when the Legionaries of Christ, under the guise of financing the visit of John Paul II, marketed his image excessively according to the analyst, by promoting with various products, mainly potato chips.
“It was falling into what was then called ‘simony,’ which means charging money for religious goods. Simon was a fraudster who asked money for false sinecures. Then, the word ‘simony’ is a very serious one in the ecclesiastical language, because it means a kind of scam,” said Barranco.
The main problem was when they publicly argued about the use and destination of a budget remnant of 10 million pesos, a product of the donations made in the private sector and civil society institutions.
“The nuncio wanted to give it to charity and the cardinal wanted it to go to the Archdiocese,” he added.
Barranco has said that the cost of a papal visit is virtually unquantifiable, because it depends on several factors. However, making an estimation based on the visit to Mexico by former Pope Benedict XVI in March 2012, a cost of 136 million pesos per day was assessed by the federal government.
“A visit of nine days, following these figures, yields a total of more than 1 billion pesos,” he added.
One of the works being carried out before the visit of the pope to Mexico includes public lighting restoration, the rehabilitation of parks and gardens, paving main streets and avenues, and improving road signs.
In addition to the work meant to improve cities’ images, there have been adjustments made to the areas where the mass religious activities will be held. There, public investment is much higher.
In the case of Morelia, officials from the state Governance Secretariat disclosed that the investment will total 40 million pesos.
These resources will be allocated to public works, tourism promotion, paving and civil protection and logistics measures, which account for more than half of the budget. This, is in addition to the reconstruction of the Venustiano Carranza Stadium, which will cost 20 million pesos.
The government of Chihuahua revealed that, in the case of Ciudad Juárez, the modifications made to the Social Rehabilitation Center (Cereso) Number 3 will see an investment of 600,000 pesos.
In the case of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mayor Marco Antonio Cancino said that, in preparation for the pope’s visit, they will remodel the municipality using an investment of 400,000 pesos. The economic benefits from the religious leader’s visit is estimated to be over 600 million pesos.
The works carried out by the urban image management of the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez consist of the pruning and alignment of trees and the collection of damaged public light fixtures. The estimated budget for these works was not made public by the authorities.
In Ecatepec, in the State of Mexico, the government is making adjustments in the area known as El Caracol, where Pope Francis will hold mass. The amount allocated to these adjustments was not shared by the authorities.