Benedict XV1: Exposing his ignorance of history & insulting Latin American Indians in Brazil Print E-mail
May. 15, 2007

Brazil Indigenous Groups Slam Pope For Saying They Were 'Silently Longing' To Be Christians


SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) Indian rights groups are criticizing Pope Benedict XVI for insisting that Latin American Indians wanted to become Christian before European conquerors arrived centuries ago.

The pope said Sunday that pre-Columbian people of Latin America and the Caribbean were seeking Christ without realizing it. "Christ is the savior for whom they were silently longing," Benedict told a regional conference of bishops in Brazil.

But Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, said Monday that the comments fail to account for the fact that Indians were enslaved and killed by the Portuguese and Spanish settlers who forced them to become Catholic.

Benedict "is a good theologian, but it seems he missed some history classes," said Suess, whose council is supported by the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope told the bishops that, "the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture."

But Marcio Meira, who is in charge of Brazil's federal Indian Bureau, said Indians were forced to convert to Catholicism as the result of a "colonial process."

"As an anthropologist and a historian I feel obliged to say that, yes, in the past 500 years there was an imposition of the Catholic religion on the indigenous people," Meira said.

In Guatemala, where 42 percent of the nation's 12 million people call themselves Indian, the former presidential commissioner on racism said the pope's comments were a step backward.

"To say that there was no imposition is a falsification in light of the history if those that did not accept the faith were flagellated," said Ricardo Cajas.

Brazil once had an estimated 2,000 Indian tribes, but many have died out or assimilated into the general population since the nation was settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, according to the Indian Missionary Council. Brazil's 2000 census found about 700,000 Indians in Latin America's most populous country.

Benedict said that indigenous Latin Americans formed "a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them."

He added that any return by those indigenous populations to their original religions "would be a step back."

Suess said the pope made similar statements while he was a senior cardinal.


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 14 May 2007 17:14:33 GMT

Brazil's Indians offended by Pope comments

By Raymond Colitt

BRASILIA, May 14 (Reuters) - Outraged Indian leaders in Brazil said on Monday they were offended by Pope Benedict's "arrogant and disrespectful" comments that the Roman Catholic Church had purified them and a revival of their religions would be a backward step.

In a speech to Latin American and Caribbean bishops at the end of a visit to Brazil, the Pope said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

They had welcomed the arrival of European priests at the time of the conquest as they were "silently longing" for Christianity, he said.

Millions of tribal Indians are believed to have died as a result of European colonization backed by the Church since Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, through slaughter, disease or enslavement.

Many Indians today struggle for survival, stripped of their traditional ways of life and excluded from society.

"It's arrogant and disrespectful to consider our cultural heritage secondary to theirs," said Jecinaldo Satere Mawe, chief coordinator of the Amazon Indian group Coiab.

Several Indian groups sent a letter to the Pope last week asking for his support in defending their ancestral lands and culture. They said the Indians had suffered a "process of genocide" since the first European colonizers had arrived.

Priests blessed conquistadors as they waged war on the indigenous peoples, although some later defended them and many today are the most vociferous allies of Indians.

"The state used the Church to do the dirty work in colonizing the Indians but they already asked forgiveness for that ... so is the Pope taking back the Church's word?" said Dionito Jose de Souza a leader of the Makuxi tribe in northern Roraima state.

Pope John Paul spoke in 1992 of mistakes in the evangelization of native peoples of the Americas.

Pope Benedict not only upset many Indians but also Catholic priests who have joined their struggle, said Sandro Tuxa, who heads the movement of northeastern tribes.

"We repudiate the Pope's comments," Tuxa said. "To say the cultural decimation of our people represents a purification is offensive, and frankly, frightening.

"I think (the Pope) has been poorly advised."

Even the Catholic Church's own Indian advocacy group in Brazil, known as Cimi, distanced itself from the Pope.

"The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible," Cimi advisor Father Paulo Suess told Reuters. "I too was upset."

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