The lower house of the Mexican government passed an amendment that would lift the restrictions on religious groups holding services in public without needing to ask permission first from the government.
Lawmakers on Dec. 15 approved changes to Article 24 of the Mexican Constitution, which forbids celebrating worship services outside houses of worship without first receiving government permission.
The amendment would also guarantee Mexican citizens freedom of religion. As it stands now religions are practiced secularly, with no displays in public.
The Senate and 16 of Mexico's 31 state legislatures still must approve the amendment for it to become a matter of law.
"With this reform, the rights the persons have to freely exercise the religion of their preference or not have any ... are amplified," Mexico’s Bishop Conference said in a statement Dec. 16.
"Our country, through its legislators, has taken an important step in the recognition and respect of a fundamental and innate right of each person," the statement added.
The Vatican announced Pope Benedict XVI will visit Mexico during the spring of 2012. Details of the visit have not been announced, although church officials have said the Pontiff will visit the state of Guanajuato.
That area was a hotbed of Catholic resistance during the Cristero Rebellion. The rebellion started in the 1927 in response to the persecutions of Catholics and other anti-clerical laws that were stated in the Mexican constitution of 1917.
The relationship between Mexico’s Church and state has been strained for much of the last century and even today public events remain secular. Yet some public officials now occasionally appear at Catholic events.
President Felipe Calderon and his family recently attended a Dec. 17 service at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in which Catholics prayed for peace.
Members of the governing National Action Party voted in favor of the amendment, as well as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which led Mexico for 71 years starting in 1929 at the conclusion of the Cristero Rebellion.