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Pope urges respect for indigenous in Mexico

Pope John Paul II called on Saturday for more respect for Mexico's Indians, saying greater pluralism would reinforce the idea that all Mexicans are part of the same family.

During a meeting with Mexico's new ambassador to the Vatican, Fernando Estrada Samano, the Holy Father said there must be an increase "without any delay, in the appreciation of the dignity of the indigenous".

Greater plurality would reinforce the idea "of being brothers within the greater Mexican family," he said.

John Paul didn't mention by name the conflict in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where Zapatista rebels staged a short-lived rebellion two years ago to demand greater autonomy and land access for Indians.

The Mexican Congress has approved an Indian rights bill, but rebels have rejected it as too watered-down and peace talks have stalled.

Pope John Paul II spoke out about the rights of Mexico's 10 million Indians during his last trip to the country in 1999, saying a solution to the conflict couldn't be solved without recognition that the indigenous were the first owners of land.

As he did then, John Paul on Saturday also warned against transforming Marxist liberation theology into indigenous-based ideologies and called for a "purification of memory".

Acknowledging the historical hostility between the Roman Catholic church and the Mexican government, John Paul stressed the mutual respect between the two - but not interference - and reminded the ambassador that the church's mission was spiritual, not political.