Controversy over the pope’s address in Brazil concerning the evangelization of South America

Source: FSSPX News


“What did the acceptance of the Christian faith mean for the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean?” asked the pope at the beginning of his address of inauguration of the fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. “For them, it meant knowing and welcoming Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking without realizing it, in their rich religious traditions,” answered Benedict XVI. “Indeed, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Colombian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture,” the pope specified. “Authentic cultures are not closed in upon themselves, nor are they set in stone at a particular point in history, but they are open, or better still, they are seeking an encounter with other cultures, hoping to reach universality through encounter and dialogue.” “The Utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Colombian religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal Church, would not be a step forward: indeed, it would be a step back,” concluded Benedict XVI, rejoicing over the “wisdom of the indigenous peoples.”

On May 14, South American political leaders and intellectuals protested against these statements. Cecilia Domevi, one of the officials of the General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean for the question of the Amerindians, expressed her “total disagreement” with the pope. “Evangelization has been an ambiguous and violent imposition, a culture shock, which caused immense harm to the Indians,” she told AFP.

Felix Patzi, former Minister for Education in the government of Bolivian Socialist President Evo Morales, considered that Benedict XVI had a “narrow view” and that his address was “wrong”, for “we know very well that all that was imposed and that the colonial era was a time of inquisition and destruction.”

“The pope does not know anything of our history,” protested Felipe Quispe, a dignitary of the Aymaras Indians and a former candidate in the Bolivian presidential elections, who was quoted in La Croix by Nicolas Senèze. “To deny that the imposition of the Catholic religion was used as a means of domination over the indigenous peoples, is to willfully hide historical facts,” stated Luis Evelis Andrade, director of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia. In his view, “as indigenous peoples, even if we are believers, we cannot accept that the Church deny her share of the responsibility for the annihilation of our identity and culture.”

For his part, Aloysio Antonio Castelo Guapindaia, president of the Indian National Foundation in Brazil, stressed that: “there was definitely an imposition of religion in order to dominate the local populations.”

During a meeting in favor of freedom of speech, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez accused the pope of having passed over in silence the “holocaust” perpetrated by the colonizers from the year 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered America. “With all the respect due to Your Holiness, you should ask for forgiveness, because there was genocide, and to deny it would be tantamount to denying ourselves,” he declared.

Let us recall that in 1992, on the occasion of the Fourth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Santo Domingo, John Paul II made an act of repentance for the violence perpetrated in the name of religion during the colonization of the South American continent.

On May 15, when questioned by La Croix, the Press Office of the Holy See declined to make any comment on the subject, judging that “a reaction would only provoke more reactions.”

However, speaking about his visit to Brazil during the public audience of May 23, at the Vatican, Benedict XVI acknowledged “the suffering and the injustice inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations” in Latin America. “It is not possible, in fact, to forget the suffering and the injustice inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled upon,” he declared. Evoking the five centuries of Christian culture and faith in Latin America, Benedict XVI thought that “the memory of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompany the work of evangelization of the Latin American Continent.”

“But the necessary acknowledgement of such unjustifiable crimes – crimes, however, already condemned at the time by missionaries like Bartholomé de Las Casas and by theologians like Francisco de Vitoria of the University of Salamanca – must not prevent our grateful acknowledgement of the wonderful works accomplished by divine grace among those populations in the course of these centuries,” stressed the pope. And he added that “the Gospel has thus become on the Continent the supporting element of a dynamic synthesis which, with various facets and according to the different nations, nonetheless expresses the identity of the Latin American People.”