Mexico City cardinal heads world’s largest archdiocese

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the world's cardinals prepare to elect a new pope, one of several influential Latin American electors is the head of the world's largest Catholic archdiocese, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, head of the Mexico City Archdiocese, is considered an influential elector in the conclave. (CNS file photo)

Cardinal Rivera, 62, has some 7 million Catholics in his care. The archdiocese averages about 150,000 baptisms a year -- more than the entire Catholic population in many dioceses around the world.

The cardinal, primate of the Mexican church, was a seminary professor most of his priesthood. In his first episcopal appointment, as head of the Diocese of Tehuacan in Puebla state in 1985, he was practically unknown internationally.

Since he became archbishop of Mexico City in 1995 he has been in the news often, speaking on a wide range of social issues.

He has sharply criticized Mexico's drug cartel and government corruption and complicity in the drug trade on numerous occasions. But in January, when the U.S. ambassador took Mexico to task for ineffective enforcement of drug laws, he issued a sharp rebuke.

"I don't think the United States has the moral authority to criticize us," he said. "They, too, suffer from this problem and haven't been able to solve it. ... It's not through confrontation or mutual criticism that this problem will be solved, but rather through joining forces."

He also has criticized the United States for "xenophobic attitudes" toward Mexican immigrants, calling it inconsistent to promote international free trade but refuse to let people cross the border for the basic human right to work.

"Just as the borders are open to merchandise, that is all the more reason that the borders should be open to the human being," he said in 2000.

While welcoming initiatives to combat crime and violence in Mexico, in 1999 he led the nation's bishops in opposing proposals to reinstate the death penalty.

For years he has championed foreign debt relief for poor countries around the world. He has called his own country's foreign debt a "bloodletting" that drains the nation's vital resources.

When opposition candidate Vicente Fox was elected president in 2000, ending 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Cardinal Rivera said the country had entered a new era in its political life, but he stressed that the church expected no privileges from the new government.

In January 2003, as U.S. and British forces were preparing to invade Iraq, he joined Pope John Paul II and many other religious leaders in condemning the invasion plans.

"There does not have to be a war. It would be a disgrace to humanity if we go down this path," he said.

The cardinal hosted Pope John Paul's 1999 visit to Mexico, when the pope canonized St. Juan Diego, visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, and officially published his apostolic exhortation on the church in America. It was Cardinal Rivera who, during the 1997 Synod of Bishops of North and South America, had invited the pope to come to Mexico City when he was ready to release the apostolic exhortation reflecting the results of the synod. His request drew a standing ovation from the bishops at the synod.

Cardinal Rivera is viewed as conservative doctrinally but progressive on matters of Catholic social teaching -- a description that could fit many if not most of the church's bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

Born June 6, 1942, in La Purisima in the Archdiocese of Durango, he entered the archdiocesan seminary in 1955. After completing his classical and philosophical studies and one year of theology there, he was sent to Rome to finish his theological studies. He earned a doctorate in theology at Rome's Gregorian University and was ordained a priest July 3, 1966, by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter's Basilica.

After a brief stint as an associate pastor in Rio Grande he was appointed to the theology faculty of the Durango major seminary, where he taught for 18 years and also served as prefect of discipline. From 1982 to 1985 he was also a professor of ecclesiology at the University of Mexico.

As a priest he founded a lay Christian life movement, served two terms as a coordinator of the archdiocesan priests' council, was an archdiocesan consultor and council member and served as archdiocesan director of the social affairs commission and director of communications.

He was named bishop of Tehuacan in November 1985 and was ordained the following month. When the indigenous rebellion broke out in Chiapas state, to the south, he said the disregard for human rights and the difficult economic conditions for the poor in Puebla were very similar to those that led to the Chiapas revolt.

Installed as archbishop of Mexico City in July 1995 in the midst of a national economic and political crisis and the rebellion in Chiapas, he called for national unity.

"If the fratricidal struggles continue and violence continues on the rise and we do not realize that we are losing our values, we run the risk of the country coming apart on us," he said.

That October he led celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the crowning of Our Lady of Guadalupe, by papal decree, as patroness of the Americas.

Pope John Paul made him a cardinal in 1998.

He is a member of the Vatican congregations for clergy and for divine worship and the sacraments, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.


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