May 23, 2007

Pope Benedict Acknowledges Crimes During Colonization of Americas

Voice of America
By Sabina Castelfranco
23 May 2007

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Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict acknowledged on Wednesday that "unjustifiable crimes" were committed during the colonization of the Americas. The pontiff, who has been criticized by Indian groups, recently returned from his first visit to Brazil. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Pope Benedict on Wednesday said Christians committed injustices during the colonization of Latin America. Addressing pilgrims gathered for his weekly general audience at the Vatican, the pope said the memories of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied evangelization of the Latin American continent.

Pope Benedict says "It is not possible, indeed, to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled on."

The pontiff said he was making a "dutiful mention of such unjustifiable crimes," and he said some missionaries and theologians in the past had condemned those crimes. He added that the crimes should not detract from the accomplishments of Christianity in Latin America.

The pope recently returned from his first visit to Latin America, which took him to Brazil. In a speech to bishops at the end of his trip, he said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

He said indigenous peoples welcomed the arrival of European priests during the conquest and that they were "silently longing" for Christianity. He also said embracing Christianity purified them.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the Pope of ignoring the "holocaust" that followed the 1492 landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. And Indian leaders in Brazil have voiced their displeasure with the pope's remarks. They said they were offended by Benedict's "arrogant and disrespectful" comments.

Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, which is Church-backed, said the pope's comments failed to take into account that Portuguese and Spanish settlers enslaved Indians and forced them to become Catholic.

On Wednesday, Pope Benedict stopped short of making a formal apology. But in the past, the Catholic Church has apologized to Brazil's Indians and blacks for the "sins and errors" committed by its clergy and faithful over the past 500 years. The head of Brazil's bishops' conference made that apology during the Vatican's Holy Year in 2000.

"With all due respect your Holiness, you should apologize because there was a real genocide here and if we were to deny it, we would be denying our very selves,"

“Something much more serious occurred here than during the holocaust of World War II, and nobody can deny that this is true, and neither can his Holiness come here, to our own land, and deny the aboriginal holocaust,” Chavez said over the weekend on Venezuelan radio and television.

“So, as a head of State, but clad in the humility of a Venezuelan farmworker, I implore his Holiness to apologize to the peoples of our America,” Chavez demanded.

Chavez said he paid close attention to everything the Pope said in Brazil, and that after hearing him say that the gospel was not imposed upon the natives, he called Venezuela’s Minister for the Indigenous Peoples, Nizia Maldonado, who said she did not share the Pope’s opinion and that it was “difficult to support, for God’s sake!”

“Is that why the Catholic Church is losing more believers every day?” Chavez said. “I think it’s because of this.”

Chavez said that the Pope’s comments that the evangelization of Latin America was not the imposition of a foreign culture, seemed to be intended to strengthen the Catholic Church, but “these statements only weaken the Catholic Church more.”

“How can the Pope say here, in this land, where the bones of the native martyrs who were massacred by the rule of the European empires are still warm, how can he say, because that’s practically what he said, that there was no imposition,” Chavez said.

The Venezuelan president said he would call the Vatican “right away,” because, he said, “tomorrow we will wake up to the headlines saying ‘Chavez attacks the Pope’.”

“I don’t care, they can say what they want, in speaking the truth I am not offending anyone nor do I have any fear.” “I don’t care what they say in their 60 second sound bites on the news,” Chavez stated.

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