Mexican president makes historic church visit
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -- President Ernesto Zedillo was present at the
inauguration of a Roman Catholic cathedral Thursday in an act that church
officials described as unprecedented in modern Mexico but that Zedillo's
aides scurried to downplay.
Zedillo unveiled a plaque at the opening of the cathedral in Ecatepec in
the central state of Mexico, the latest sign of warming relations between the
church and the Mexican state.
"It's the first time in Mexican history that a president has unveiled a
the inauguration of a cathedral," Onesimo Cepeda, bishop of Ecatepec, told
Although at least 90 percent of Mexicans are Catholic, Mexican leaders
have long carefully preserved the separation of church and state. The policy
is rooted in 19th-century laws that expropriated church property and a
1920s war triggered by a government crackdown on the church.
But relations have improved in recent years, and in 1992 Mexico established
diplomatic ties with the Vatican. In January, Pope John Paul II paid his
fourth visit to Mexico.
Zedillo aides said the division between church and state had not been
"The state is secular," Interior Minister Francisco Labastida said in response
to reporters' questions about the significance of Zedillo's visit. "But that does
not stop those of us in the government from having not only respectful but
cordial and constructive relations with the church."