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Mourners in Mexico say farewell to Samuel Ruiz, priest who mediated Zapatista conflict

Samuel ruiz obit latimes

Mourners this week have been streaming into the cathedral in the Mexican city of San Cristobal de las Casas to say farewell to Samuel Ruiz Garcia, the Roman Catholic bishop who championed indigenous rights.

Ruiz died Monday at a hospital in Mexico City. He was 86 and had retired. Read about Ruiz's life and work in The Times' obituary.

For many Catholic Maya and residents of the southern state of Chiapas, Ruiz was known simply as "tatic," or "father" in the Tzotzil Maya dialect. Until his retirement, he served as bishop in San Cristobal de las Casas, the spiritual and political center of Maya life in the mountainous and tropical southeastern state of Chiapas.

After the Zapatista uprising erupted there in 1994, he mediated between the rebels and federal government and was accused by conservative voices of siding with the Zapatistas. He was sometimes called Bishop of the Poor or Red Bishop.

Ruiz's ecclesiastical work grew out of the liberation theology movement that swept Latin America after the Second Vatican Council, which he attended. He attempted to fend off rising Protestant movements among the Maya by adapting Roman Catholic practices to local customs, such as relying more heavily on male lay workers because married men with children often command more respect than celibate priests.

The bells of the San Cristobal de las Casas cathedral began calling at dawn Wednesday for the funeral Mass. Mostly indigenous mourners gathered on the esplanade before the cathedral, many with lighted candles and praying. Ruiz will be buried in a crypt beneath the church's main altar.

Watch these two video reports from El Universal, in Spanish, on farewells to Samuel Ruiz.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Bishop Samuel Ruiz walks with villagers to attend Mass in the Chiapas town of Benito Juarez in 1997. Credit: Pascual Gorriz / Associated Press

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