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A man delivers a shipment of portraits of Pope John Paul II to a shop selling religious paraphernalia, near the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Friday, April 25, 2014. The canonization of Pope John Paul II is drawing special attention in Latin America, reviving both warm memories of his frequent visits to the region and debate over his handling of sex-abuse scandals. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
John Paul II sainthood stirs Latin Americans
First Published Apr 25 2014 07:01 pm • Last Updated Apr 25 2014 07:01 pm

Mexico City • The canonization of Pope John Paul II is drawing special attention in Latin America, reviving both warm memories of his frequent visits to the region and debate over his handling of sex-abuse scandals.

The other pope scheduled to be canonized Sunday, John XXIII, also left a deep mark in Latin America after he promoted changes within the Catholic Church that prompted priests to get closer to the faithful. Many say that encouraged "liberation theology," a left-leaning, activist trend among priests eager to help the poor.

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But it is John Paul, a critic of liberation theology, who is getting the buzz in Latin America. The most-traveled pope in history visited Latin America on 18 of his 104 international trips, including five visits to Mexico and four to Brazil.

"He was ‘the’ pope because he was always with the poor, and showed his simplicity and his love for his people," said Ana Maria Sanchez, 52, a Mexico City housewife.

The broadcast of the double canonization ceremony will be shown in movie theaters in countries like Mexico and Colombia.

"I remember John Paul II because he was recent and he was very close to the people, very charismatic. He was a man who radiated goodness and spirituality," said Yadira Argel, 28, a lawyer in Colombia.

John Paul rebuked Latin American priests who sought to involve the church politically through the doctrine of "liberation theology."

For "the people who remember the Second Vatican Council, and who are more the Catholics of the left, John XXIII is an icon of leftist Catholics worldwide," said Andrew Chesnut, a professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

John Paul’s legacy is mixed in another way: Many felt he did not act forcefully enough on sex abuse scandals among clergy.

Jose Barba, a former member of the Legion of Christ who has become one of the most outspoken victims of sexual abuse in the order, questioned the decision to make John Paul a saint.

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"I am not opposed to the canonization if it can truly and decisively be proven that the Pope didn’t know," he said.

But, he said, "I am convinced now, as I never was before, that the Pope did know."

The late founder of the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, led a double life, sexually abusing his seminarians and fathering three children.

For sexual abuse survivors and their advocates, the Legion scandal has become emblematic of the Catholic Church’s concern for the institution over victims. Despite credible reports sent to the Vatican starting in the 1950s that Maciel was a pedophile, drug addict and manipulative liar, it took until 2006 for then-Pope Benedict XVI to bring Maciel to justice. The Mexican prelate died two years later.

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