Interview with Priest Juan Luis Casillas Martínez

Priest Juan Luis Casillas Martinez talks about the challenges of the Church in our Mexico through the Project "Caras de México". 

What is Mexico for you?
For me it’s a country that has grown and I think it will continue to slowly grow and dream every day. Although there have been many obstacles and difficulties we are still standing despite the challenges, which has united the country in a desire to move forward, and hopefully we will soon.

What do you say when talking about Mexico?
I have had the opportunity to show my country to people abroad. I studied for three years in Rome, Italy and I am constantly in touch with college friends from Europe, Asia and Africa and I like to brag about my country. Sometimes maybe I overdo it but I can’t help but say that Mexico has a wide range of natural beauty, it’s a place to get to know and admire with friendly, hospitable, religious people and a strong culture. I like to show off.

What did you miss most about Mexico while abroad?
The culture and the friendly people. I wasn’t a tourist in Rome, I was living and working closely with the people and parishes there and I struggled to adapt to the culture and I found the people to be cold. I missed the warmth of the Mexican people, the food, and the culture... But most especially, the people.

Compared to Italy, what are the best and worst parts of Mexico?
I admire that Mexico still standing despite she has suffered. If you look at history, you will see that there have been very difficult times but we are still standing. That's what I admire about Mexico and especially the common people, the people who work every day just to get by, working to grow, working for the future of the children. That's what I admire.

What makes me ashamed is that structurally there is so much corruption. There are many official institutions that don’t allow the country to grow, they only focus or fix what they care about or what best serves their own interests. The corruption in Mexico is its most shameful aspect.

What is the biggest challenge for the Church in Mexico?
I think the faith has been greatly reduced to happen primarily in a private sphere, that is, only when you want it or at a certain times of the week or certain points of your life. There are many in the faith that attend Mass on Sundays and think that’s enough, but not allowing the gospel they hear on Sunday to really permeate their lives. If you understand the gospel, you realize that Jesus gives you a clear plan in life with challenges and guidelines to follow in your everyday life and social relationships. The gospel has to influence society. So, the big challenge is that people have been very comfortable with the rites like going to mass or prayer meetings, but they are not living the full faith, its effects and consequences, in their daily lives.

You go to church and listen to the story of Jesus who fought to transform the lives of people, but yet you do not transform. You know that Jesus was involved in judging the hypocrisy of the authorities, yet you do not worry about denouncing what is wrong in our society if it’s a personal benefit to you. You know that Jesus who cares about the dignity of a person, but often at home or at work, you don’t protect the dignity of those around you. That's my point, that the biggest challenge today is the Church is the fight for faith to become life.

What we need to understand/change as Mexicans?
Being supportive. In our society, selfishness still rules. We care only about ourselves and our family but we forget about our neighbor. That's one of the many things that we need to transform today.

What is it that captures/reflects Mexican identity?
The desire to grow. That's one of the main characteristics that identify Mexicans. Striving to have a decent lifestyle.

Of course if you want to discuss culture, you must remember that we are a culture that has been consolidating slowly after the meeting of two worlds and has been based on much suffering. It is a people struggling to be faithful.

What do you think we have learned in recent history?
Mexico needs to learn that we have to face all the burdens of society. The drug war, maybe the strategy was not the wisest, but I think we have to face the big issues and major cancers in our society. Drug trafficking is a major cancer that can not be negotiated because it undermines dignity and is life-threatening. I believe we can and we must address the major problems of the nation. I think it's the same as the desire for expression that came with the last election, the protest groups. I wish we could rise up to confront the major problems of the nation. I think that's what Mexico must do because you can not negotiate against anything that threatens society.

What is the biggest challenge for Mexico as a country?
Corruption and violence because they are two things that go together. Violence begets violence, fear and insecurity. And while we have corruption, will not be able to eradicate social problems.

What do you most proud of being Mexican?
The Mexicans enjoy life and always seek to be happy. An attitude of happiness in spite of challenges.  As a Catholic, one of the things I'm most proud of is the Virgin of Guadalupe because it is a manifestation of God's presence in the Mexican people. As a Mexican, I believe that the Virgin distinguishes us more than the national flag, at least when I was in Europe, I learned that many think that the flag of Mexico is a copy of that of Italy but we are distinguished by the Virgin of Guadalupe. Even Poles (who do not speak Spanish and their customs have nothing to do with ours), hum two or three verses of the hymn of Guadalupe.

In a word describing Mexico:

Your favorite Mexican traditional dish:
White pozole with a combination of chicken and pork. Spicy with cabbage and corn.

Interview with Priest Juan Luis Casillas Martínez for Caras de México. Click here to read more interviews examining Mexican identity.