“Chetumal is a heavily Catholicized society, more so than Belize. So if the role of the Catholic Church is analyzed, then it can only be deduced that it is good for Chetumal. The school system there is pretty much the same as in Belize.”
– Leslie Lamb in AMANDALA No. 2671, Sunday, January 6, 2013
“From the earliest days of the colonial period, Mexico has always been a predominantly Catholic country. Yet for more than a century after independence the Church came under periodic and at times violent attack at the hands of various governments, some (in the nineteenth century) liberal, others (during the first period of the twentieth century) radical. From 1926 to 1929 the Mexican bishops ordered all churches in the Republic closed in an effort to force President Plutarco Elias Calles’ regime to rescind its anticlerical legislation. The clerical strike failed, in large part because most Mexicans, especially those in the countryside, felt no overwhelming need for Masses and sacraments. Since the Spanish conquest the traditional European practices have played an insignificant part in the religious life of the Mexican people. The Franciscan and Dominican friars who brought Christianity to Mexico sought to impose their own theological conceptions, but the Indians resisted passively until in the end the native ways won out. If the official religion became Spanish and European, the images and the cult practices remained Indian. It was the native, preconquest influences, as manifested at the basilica of Guadalupe and other national and local shrines, that have continued into the last third of the twentieth century to characterize much of Mexican Catholicism.
“The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the single most powerful element in Mexican Catholicism. On any day of the year the basilica and the surrounding courtyard are alive with pilgrims who have come to visit the shrine, to drink water from the sacred well and buy maize cakes in the plaza. If the crowds are not too large, many penitents will fall on their knees and shuffle across the courtyard and up the stone steps of the church. Inside they will light candles as votive offerings. Some, to give thanks for a particular miracle, especially a wondrous healing, will leave a silver image of the healed part – a leg, a heart – or even the likeness of an animal who was mysteriously preserved from what seemed to be certain death. At the great altar, beneath the image of the Virgin, or at one side of the side altars, a priest may be offering up the Mass. But few pilgrims pay him heed. Their coming to the basilica has nothing to do with Masses or sacraments, or any of the ordinary rituals of the Church. It is a matter between them and the dark Virgin, and there are no intermediaries at Tepeyac. She appears without the Son, for her powers are immediate, not derivative. Christ the Lord is venerated elsewhere, at other shrines specifically dedicated to His worship. If the well-to-do, usually middle-aged or elderly women dressed in black, kneel in front of the altar and attend to the Mass, the Indians wander in awe about the church, pausing before an image of the Virgin or a saint, then pass their hands over the sacred object and rub their own faces and bodies, as though to transfer to themselves the statue’s wondrous powers. They emerge from the church seemingly unaware of the priest or the sacrifice of the Mass.”
– pgs. 3, 4, THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH 1910-1929, Robert E. Quirk, Indiana University Press, 1973.
The Mexican school system is fundamentally different from that of Belize, because Mexico’s is a state system of education, just like the case with everybody else except Belize. There are no countries around us, as far as I know, where taxpayers pay schools to teach religion.
Mexico had a major revolution in 1910, and one of the major issues was the support the Catholic Church was giving to an oligarchical system where a few people had gobbled up most of the Mexican land. Included in these “few people” were American, British, and other companies which had been given a red carpet to enter Mexico by the dictator Porfirio Diaz.
The Mexican Revolution had become so anticlerical at the highest levels of government in the latter half of the 1920s that there was a counter-revolution led by the Catholic Church. The so-called Cristeros fought military battles against Mexican government forces with the support of the Church. The Catholic Church is still powerful in Mexico, but it is the state which rules, absolutely.
In Guatemala, by contrast, since independence in 1821 there has never been a real revolution, so that the Guatemalan power structure remains what it was in Mexico before 1910 – an oligarchy supported by the military and the Church.
The problem in Belize is that half of all the Belizean children born every year do not receive adequate education or skills training, and these are the children who become gangsters and criminals. Yet, there are those who continue to praise Belize’s church-state system of education because there is a high quality area which produces world class students. The high quality schools, which must be considered elitist in a context where half our children are thrown annually into the streets and countryside to fend for themselves, are predominantly Roman Catholic.
In the United States, high quality Catholic institutions of learning also exist, from primary to university levels, but they are not subsidized by the state. As a result, American Catholic schools are expensive, but they are worth the price. The parents who want Catholic education for their children simply have to pay a high price for it.
Not so in Belize, because some of the taxpayers’ monies which should be attending to the manifest, critical needs of half the Belizean children born every year, subsidize the high quality Catholic schools. Only a limited number of students can get into these schools each year, so the administrators of Catholic schools hold and exercise a great deal of power. The vast majority of Belizean parents want a Catholic education for their children, not necessarily because it is Catholic, but because it is the best.
The defence utilized by the Catholic bosses has been, from the time UBAD demanded in 1969 that African and Indian history be taught in Belize’s schools, that the Catholic faith was being attacked. This is a tactic always guaranteed to spark emotional protest and mobilization amongst the faithful who revere Christ Crucified and the Virgin Mary. No one’s attacking their religion. There is total religious freedom in Belize, and all kinds of religions flourish here, from the Hondo to the Sarstoon and from Benque to Turneffe. We nationalists are looking at a relevant Belizean school curriculum, and the vast majority of us here are African and Mayan.
Apart from there being a racist and colonial bigotry inherent in the rejection of African and Indian history, there is a selfish complacency amongst the beneficiaries of the status quo, who refuse to recognize the tragedy being experienced by half of the nation’s children at any given time. The socio-economic turmoil which has been the result of the injustice built into the education system, has now alarmed the beneficiaries of the system: they are the ones who are now calling for an all-out police and military attack on those who are the most militant of the uneducated and unskilled.
This crisis began with the unjust allocation of financial resources in the education system. Because the Catholic schools are the best, they will survive without the subsidies, but parents of the children who attend the Catholic schools will have to pay more. No PUDP politician dares propose this to the electorate, however, because the Catholics control the largest number of voters. So, in my lifetime, matters have gone from bad to worse.
The problem is not your religious beliefs, Mr. Lamb. No one cares how you choose to worship or what you believe where the supernatural is concerned. The issue is right here on earth. If we don’t educate and train our children, those who are not trained and educated will become gangsters and criminals. Once this happens, we have to spend more money hunting and shooting and incarcerating them. If you would recognize the bias and injustice in the system, then you would see that some changes have to be made.
Power to the people.