Indigenous people and their elders have reacted angrily to remarks Pope Benedict made during his trip to Brazil, calling the conservative leader of the Roman Catholic Church “arrogant and disrespectful” for saying that Indian people “willingly” converted to Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI made his first official visit to the Americas with a four day visit to Brazil, where he railed against premarital sex, Marxism, abortion rights and drug dealers while offering a tepid, moderate critique of capitalism… saying only that it had “failed” the poor of Latin America.
But the Pope’s alternative to the materialist realities of capitalism and globalization is to simply reinstate the power of the Church. Turning his back on Latin America’s Liberation Theology - those clergy and laity who champion social justice through a leftwing reading of Christianity - Benedict said, “The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit.”
Pope Benedict’s visit to Brazil no doubt inspired conservatives and traditionalists, but his words seemed to upset just about everyone else. Those most offended, and rightly so, where Brazil’s indigenous people. At a talk before Latin American and Caribbean Bishops made at the end of his visit, the Pontiff said that American Indians had “welcomed” the arrival of the Europeans 500 years ago, as they had been “silently longing” for Christianity. The Pontiff alleged that the Church had “purified” native peoples, and that a revival of indigenous spiritual beliefs would be “a backward step.” Moreover, the Pontiff said the Christian Church had not imposed its teachings upon the indigenous people of the Americas. Shockingly, the Pope made no mention of the documented violence and genocide in Latin America directed against native peoples by the Conquistadors and the Christian Church. As the Washington Post reported:
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. 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. (….) “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.”