The Synod on the Amazon will be held in October 2019 under the title “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”. Reading its preparatory document dated June 8, 2018, one is struck by its praise of the culture of indigenous peoples and even wonders if it was ever necessary to evangelize them; indeed, one feels guilty for having evangelized them.
Paragraph 3 – “Identity of indigenous peoples” – makes no reference to the animist, superstitious, pantheistic, violent, irrational, and pagan aspects of those cultures. Paragraph 6, titled “Spirituality and wisdom”, is an enthusiastic listing of the healthy spiritual values of indigenous peoples. They are examples of the “good life” which comes “from living in communion with other people, with the world, with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator. Indigenous peoples, in fact, live within the home that God created and gave them as a gift: the Earth. Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night.”
This “good living,” says the text, coincides with “integral ecology” found on the Synod’s title and in Pope Francis’s teachings. Now, if those peoples live in integral ecology, it is the Synod that must learn from them rather than bring to them the announcement of Christian liberation from their own cultures.
Above all, the Synod on the Amazon will attract attention for the question of “viri probati” and “women deacons”. However, I believe the Synod should call our attention also for this vision of pre-Christian indigenous cultures that the preparatory document actually presents as not needful of evangelization. It seems that the Synod’s purpose is only to “protect the indigenous peoples and their territories”.
The preparatory document presents the evangelization of the continent as a history of oppression and looting, a history spread by liberation theology not based on a sound historical and Christian evaluation. The evangelization of the peoples of the Antilles and South America took place in a complex manner, occurring alongside the conquest of those lands, with violence perpetrated against natives and linked to the economic and political interests of Spain and Portugal. The conquistadors often acted on their own initiative while missionaries frequently defended the Indians from adventurers. The missionaries were driven by a great missionary ardor but were unprepared for the new mission frontier, as theology had not yet clarified many aspects of the problem.
Nevertheless there are countless examples of dedication to the cause of the Indians and of multiple interventions to foster their material and intellectual development. The Institute of “patronage” did not favor a correct evangelization as it introduced political motivations. The Church soon realized it and took missionary activity completely to herself. The popes often intervened to condemn violence and reaffirm the human dignity of the Indians.
The most important document in this sense was the bull Sublimis Deus, of 1537, in which Pope Paul II condemns slavery by proclaiming that “Indios veros homines esse (Indians are real humans): “We define and declare…that the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved.”
Bartolomeo de Las Casas crossed the ocean seven times to ask for the king’s protection for indigenous deprived of their rights. The Mexicans called Toribio di Benavente “the poor one” because he generously gave away everything he had. Pietro di Ghent had founded a school where he taught Indians reading, writing, crafts, and technical lessons were given. As early as 1536, bishop Zumarraga established a college of higher studies.
The Council of 1576 warned against overly hasty baptisms and insisted on regular instruction for catechumens. The same Council made the study of local languages mandatory and prohibited confession through interpreters. In Paraguay, the Jesuits produced the “reductions”. These are just a few points to show how the evangelization of Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be addressed without a sound historical perspective and, above all, without a sound vision of the theology of history.
In any case, the question brings us to the problem of the preparatory documents for the ecclesial assembly, what their real purpose is and how they should be done. We will soon address that issue.
Note: Not all of the ideas in this article necessarily reflect the position of Pan-Amazon Synod Watch.
© Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged.