Mexico Considers Religious Reforms After Pope's Visit

A major step forward for religious rights in Mexico was made this week, just days after Pope Benedict XVI visited the country, as the nation's Senate approved a constitutional reform that guarantees people the right to celebrate religious events.

The senators voted 72-35 in favor of the change on March 28, but at least 16 of Mexico's 31 state legislatures must still approve the reform, The Associated Press reported.

Although 76.5 percent of Mexico's population is Roman Catholic, according to the CIA's World Factbook, the country has no official religion, and in the past has held harsh anti-clerical laws and restrictions -- the government does not provide any financial contributions to the church, the church does not participate in public education, and public religious practices were banned.

The restrictions sparked an uprising by Roman Catholics against the secular government in the 1920s, but it was not until the 1990s that some of the restrictions against pubic religious displays were lifted. The latest constitutional reform will grant people the full right to celebrate their religion in public, although such displays cannot engage in electoral politics.

Significantly, the move comes three days after Pope Benedict XVI ended his visit to Mexico. The pope was greeted by the President Felipe Calderon, when he arrived in Leon on March 23, and was cheered by many onlookers.

"We must do whatever is possible to combat this destructive evil against humanity and our youth," Pope Benedict XVI was quoted as saying. "One sees in Latin America and also elsewhere, not a few Catholics who have a schizophrenia between individual and public morality. These individuals are Catholic, believers, but in their public lives they follow other paths that don't correspond to the great values of the Gospel … so we must teach not just in individual morals but public morals."

"This is a proud country of hospitality, and nobody feels like a stranger in your land," he added. "I knew that, now I see it and now I feel it in my heart."