5.15.2007

perspectives

When I visited the new National Musem of the American Indian a few years ago, I was struck by the opening lines of the introduction to the main exhibit, Our Peoples. Above a description of the arrival of Columbus in 1492 were the words "Invasion." As an American who had grown up exposed to a very different perspective, I was struck by those words. But, as the Smithsonian website says, this exhibit is an opportunity for Native Americans to tell "their own stories—their own histories—and in this way the exhibition presents new insights into, and different perspectives on, history. "
The main story of Our Peoples focuses on the last 500 years of Native history and shows how the arrival of newcomers in the Western Hemisphere set the stage for one of the most momentous events in human history. In the struggle for survival, nearly every Native community wrestled with the impact of deadly new diseases and weaponry, the weakening of traditional spirituality, and the seizure of homelands by invading governments. But the story of these last five centuries is not entirely a story of destruction. It is also about how Native people intentionally and strategically kept their cultures alive.
Yesterday I read a story in the NY Times detailing the Pope's last speech during his visit to Brazil: The Pope Denounces Capitalism and Marxism. In reading the article, I found his comments interesting if provocative, particularly in the eyes of an American reading the words of a German Pontiff to the people of Latin America. Perspectives have an impact. But then I read the closing paragrpahs of the article:

Later, in his speech to the clergy at the large shrine to the Virgin Mary here, the pope also offered what amounted to a revisionist history of the church’s origins in Latin America.

The standard view in the region is that the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, accompanied by the clergy, imposed Catholicism in a ruinous process that left native populations, as a common phrase puts it, “between the cross and the sword.”

Some modern-day Latin American theologians have lamented the destruction of indigenous civilizations and sought to incorporate elements of those cultures into the Mass as one way of making amends. But in a statement likely to be controversial in countries with large Indian populations, including Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador, Benedict rejected that approach.

“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.

He added: “The utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbus religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal church, would not be a step forward; indeed, it would be a step back” and “a retreat towards a stage in history anchored in the past.”

I must admit that I spit out my morning coffee when I read those words.

Which is why I was not surprised to read this article in todays WaPo: Brazil's Indians Offended by Pope's Comments.

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."

Even the Catholic Church's own Indian advocacy group in Brazil, known as Cimi, distanced itself from the Pope.

"The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible," Cimi advisor Father Paulo Suess told Reuters. "I too was upset."

I'm not hoping to cause a firestorm of debate or comments here. That will happen on its own, as it probably should. We still have a lot of discussion, dialogue and reconciliation that needs to take place on this world of ours as we go about the work of building the kingdom of God. Perhaps the Pope's words and the ensuing debate will help that happen? While "I too was upset," I hope and pray that good comes from it all in the end.

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While I'm on the topic, I can't help but share the words of a favorite bumper sticker I saw years ago: "In 1492, Columbus got lost at sea and stopped to ask for directions."

1 comment:

Garpu the Fork said...

Oh man. I like Benedict--I think women have it better under him, since he sees women as intellectual equals, not just people to clean his toilets. But he really does need a copy editor or someone to fact check...or he should've gotten a tour of the areas where a former parish priest is at. Some of the places Latin America's indigenous population live in are some of the poorest areas in the northern hemisphere.