The disappearance of 43 college students in Mexico one year ago Saturday would seem to have little connection with Pope Francis’ visit to the United States this week.
But to the two dozen people protesting on Friday in front of the Mexican Consulate on East 39th Street, tenets of the Roman Catholic Church espoused in the 15th century continue to haunt the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the United States and other countries in the Americas.
The demonstrators, most of them immigrants from Mexico, want the pope to formally renounce the religious foundation the church laid for the conquering and enslavement of non-Christians in the New World.
So while Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden, they carried pictures of all 43 students and lit 43 candles on the sidewalk.
“No somos todos, nos faltan 43,” they chanted. “We are not complete, we are missing 43.”
During the height of Western exploration and colonization of the Americas, the Roman Catholic Church supported the wholesale subjugation of non-Christians through the 1493 Doctrine of Discovery. Among other applications, the doctrine was used as the legal and religious basis for seizing land rights with impunity.
This doctrine, the protesters say, led to a devaluation of the lives of indigenous peoples in Mexico and elsewhere that continues to this day and that contributed to the kidnapping and murder of the 43 students.
“There’s a historic complicity between the church and the Mexican government,” said Tupac Enrique Acosta, 63, a member of the Nahuatl Nation and a protest organizer.
“These 43 are only added to the body count that has accumulated over 500 years and that has been sanctified through systems of colonization by the church.”
The Vatican has insisted that the Doctrine of Discovery is ancient history, but advocates for indigenous peoples maintain that its effects remain.
Emilio Montez, 26, another organizer, has been protesting outside the consulate on the 26th of each month since the mass kidnapping last year. On Friday, he hoped his efforts might hold particular meaning.
“If Pope Francis won’t help,” he said, “who will?”