The pope said Sunday that indigenous people of Latin American 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.
"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. Mawe said the Pope's remarks made no mention of the violent history that followed or the documented decimation of native cultures in favor of the Christian model Conquistadors and other Europeans colonizers.
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."
Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil's Indian Missionary Council (of all things), which is supported by the Roman Catholic Church said the Pope "is a good theologian, but it seems he missed some history classes." He said that the comments of the Holy Father fail to account for the fact that Indians were enslaved and killed by the Portuguese and Spanish settlers who forced them to become Catholic.
Suess added, "The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible,"
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 to 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 do not accept the faith were flagellated," said Ricardo Cajas
By the way Benedict added that any return by those indigenous populations to their original religions "would be a step back."
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.
I'd guess there won't be a positive answer forthcoming anytime soon.
The following is from Indianz.
Pope: Indians were 'silently longing' for Christianity
Pope Benedict has angered Indian leaders in Brazil for saying their ancestors welcomed Europeans because they were "silently longing" for Christianity.
On the last day of his visit to Brazil, the Pope spoke to Latin American and Caribbean bishops on Sunday. He cited the "rich religious traditions" of Indian people but said their ancestors were seeking God "without realizing it."
The Pope also suggested that Christianity was not detrimental to Indian culture. "In effect, 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," he said.
Jecinaldo Satere Mawe, the chief coordinator for Coiab, an Indian rights group in Brazil, called the comments "arrogant and disrespectful." Dionito Jose de Souza of the Makuxi Tribe said the Pope was trying to erase the "dirty work" of colonization. Sandro Tuxa, another Indian leader, called them "offensive, and frankly, frightening."