Pope Francis gave a lengthy address this evening to the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, rarely departing from his prepared text, though going off-the-cuff to speak about the sins of Catholics during the time of America’s colonization.
The international conference gathered representatives of workers, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups. The first world meeting of the association was held last year at the Vatican, and the Holy Father spoke to that event as well.
Today he told the workers and other social representatives, “Let us say NO to forms of colonialism old and new. Let us say YES to the encounter between peoples and cultures. Blessed are the peacemakers.”
And then, the Holy Father added: “Here I wish to bring up an important issue. Some may rightly say, ‘When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church.’ I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM [the Latin American bishops’ council] has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.’ I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
Departing then from the prepared text, he added: “And with this request for forgiveness, and to be just, I also would like us to recognize the priests and bishops who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the strength of the cross. There was sin. There was sin, and in abundance, and for this we ask forgiveness. But there as well where there was sin, where there was abundant sin, grace abounded, through these men who defended the justice of the native peoples.”
He encouraged his listeners — “believers and nonbelievers alike” — to think of the clergy and religious who “preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically.”
Some of them, he said, were “often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom.”
When President Evo Morales welcomed the Pope on Wednesday, Morales spoke of these historical sins of the Church, saying that “in many historical moments” the Church was “used for domination, subjection and oppression.”
Pope Francis went on to observe that some people today try to deny or remove the work of the Church in Latin America’s history.
“The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America,” he said. “An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.”
Francis followed his reference to the martyrs of the colonial era with a mention of the martyrs of our time.
“Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus,” he said. “This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”
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