Izamal or Zamná which means "Dew that descends from heaven" was a place of pilgrimage and religious significance to the Maya people. There were at least 7 pyramids in this region, many were respected and left untouched by the Spaniards, others were torn down and their stones used in the construction of the new Christian churches. They build the Christian mission atop of one pyramid, yet left Kinich Kak Mo untouched, which you can still visit today.
The construction of St. Antony’s of Padua started in 1516, under the direction of Friar Diego de Landa. When he started his conversion of the indigenous population, they were not allowed in the church and had to remain in the atrium. Many of the Maya’s spiritual idols were confiscated by the church. There came a point in which some of the Maya people would turn on their own people to gain favor with the Friar.
Given the past actions of the church, the pope wanted to address the issues of the wrongs committed against the indigenous population. Pope John Paul II’s visit to the monastery on August 11, 1993 was meant to bring awareness to the plight of the native people “from the Alaska Peninsula to Tierra del Fuego”.
Excerpt from Pope John Paul II's 1993 speech:
“I come to this blessed land of the Maya in the name of Jesus Christ…I come to bring you a message of hope, solidarity, love. From the first steps of evangelization, the Catholic Church…was an indefatigable defender of the Indians, protector of the values that were in their cultures, promoter of humanity against the abuses of colonizers…In its genuine values of truth, good and beauty, that heritage must be recognized and respected. Unfortunately, we must affirm that the richness of your cultures has not always been properly appreciated, nor have your rights been respected as individuals and as peoples. The shadow of sin has also been projected in America in the destruction of not a few of your artistic and cultural creations, and in the violence of which you were so often subjected. The Church does not cease in its efforts to instill in all its children the love towards cultural diversity…the Pope encourages the indigenous peoples of America to preserve the culture of their ancestors with a healthy pride. [Many] indigenous brothers and sisters have been displaced from their places of origin, also being deprived of the lands where they lived. There are also many indigenous communities, throughout the American continent, that suffer a high poverty rate… As Christians, we cannot remain indifferent to the current situation of so many brothers deprived of the right to honest work, of so many families plunged into misery. Certainly, the good results achieved in some Latin American countries cannot be denied due to the joint effort of the public and private initiative.”