Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 28, 2007
Colonization had shadows, light
Pope fleshes out comments on Church's effect on native people
By CINDY WOODEN
"It is not possible to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by the colonizers on the indigenous populations."
- Pope Benedict
"It is not possible, in fact, to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by the colonizers on the indigenous populations whose human and basic rights often were trampled," he said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the charge of criticism against the pope by demanding that he apologize for saying that Europeans did not impose Catholicism on native Americans.
"How can (the pope) go and say that they came - when they came with rifles to evangelize - that they came with no kind of imposition?" Chavez said in a mid-May broadcast over Venezuelan radio and television.
In his criticisms, Chavez called the death of Aboriginal people after the European conquest "something much worse than the Holocaust in the Second World War."
According to many historians, as many as 90 per cent of the Americas' indigenous people died following the arrival of Europeans. The great majority of those people were killed by common European diseases, such as measles and typhus, against which the Americans had no natural resistance.
However, others were killed by forced labour, massacres and in wars of conquest. On some Caribbean islands, not a single full-blooded native survived the European onslaught.
Invaders from Spain, Portugal and other Catholic nations often used the spreading of Catholicism as justification for their conquests. The popes endorsed the conquest of the Americas, even dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal.
However, some priests - including the famous Dominican Father Bartolome de las Casas - fought to protect the native Americans from murder and exploitation. Later, the papacy created rules to protect indigenous peoples, although these were widely ignored.
In those parts of America conquered and settled by Protestant nations, the history was similar.
Chavez has emphasized expanding the rights of Venezuela's tiny and impoverished indigenous minority and has ordered foreign Protestant missionaries working in indigenous regions to leave the country.
The Chavez government also created a new post of minister for indigenous peoples. The minister, Nizia Maldonado, said the imposition of foreign beliefs had not ceased, citing the activities of "the missionaries who continue working in frontier regions."
At his audience, the pope said, "the obligatory mention of the unjustifiable crimes" committed against the continent's indigenous peoples, "crimes that even then were denounced by missionaries like Bartolome de las Casas" must not prevent people from giving thanks for "the marvellous work carried out by divine grace among those peoples over the course of the centuries."
The Gospel and the local cultures, he said, came together in a "dynamic synthesis" that now forms "the identity of the Latin American people."
Pope Benedict said that in the era of globalization "this Catholic identity presents itself as the most appropriate response, if it is animated by a serious spiritual formation and the principles of the social doctrine of the Church."
Christian culture, he said, "could give life to a reconciliation between human beings and creation." It could recognize a religious obligation to protect the environment and to share the goods of the earth for the benefit of all humanity.
"Holiness is the true revolution that can transform society and cultures," the pope said.
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