Bishop: Church Aided Indigenous Peoples

Says History of Ecuador Refutes Criticism Against Pope

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APARECIDA, Brazil, MAY 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church has been the protagonist in the liberation of indigenous peoples in Latin America, says a bishop from Ecuador.



Bishop Néstor Herrera of Machala, president of the episcopal conference of Ecuador, responded to accusations leveled against Benedict XVI by Humberto Cholango, president of the Confederation of Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality.

Cholongo stated that he firmly rejected the declarations made by the Pope while the latter was in Brazil. At the same time, Cholongo reiterated his solidarity with presidents Evo Morales of Brazil, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Bishop Herrera, in a statement sent from Aparecida, Brazil, where he is participating in the general conference, said that Cholongo's statement "doesn't surprise me in the least, given the political loyalties of these indigenous leaders."

"It gives the impression that they wish to forget that the Catholic Church has been the proponent of their liberation," he added.

Richness

The 73-year-old prelate continued: "This has been very clear in Ecuador: not least because many members of the Church defend -- together with Bishop Leónidas Proaño, [who lived from] 1910-1988 -- the right of the indigenous peoples to be in charge of their own destiny.

"Also because the current social and political leaders of the indigenous people were educated by the Church, and they were loyally supported on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of their resistance."

The president of the Ecuadorian bishops added: "The Holy Father spoke for bishops, in a historical perspective, in a theological plane, that doesn't cease to consider the importance of the 'rich religious traditions' of the indigenous ancestors.

"The Pope noted that it was not an 'imposition of a foreign culture,' because no one can embrace the faith along the way of imposition, and because the Gospel is above cultures."

"This same Holy Father has often deplored the shadows and injustices recorded in the past," Bishop Herrera continued. "But in any case, the 'wealth of diversity' open to authentic progress has arrived."

"We cannot concentrate only on shadows," he said. "There are many more lights than shadows, starting from the beginning of the evangelization in America, where the authentic Christian sense of many was the first and constant defender of the indigenous peoples."

Utopia?

Cholango's protest was directed to Benedict XVI's words during his opening address at the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Pope said: "The Utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbian religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal Church, would not be a step forward: Indeed, it would be a step back. In reality, it would be a retreat toward a stage in history anchored in the past.

"The wisdom of the indigenous peoples fortunately led them to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them; hence the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples."