A leader of an Argentine indigenous community says Pope Francis on Monday wondered aloud why the Qom community has been unable to meet with leaders of Argentina’s government.
The Holy Father met with Felix Diaz and his wife, Amanda Asijak. Diaz is a leader of the Qom community of northern Argentina. He was accompanied by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Adolfo Perez Esquivel as well as the episcopal vicar for native peoples of the Diocese of Formosa, Francisco Nazar.
The director of the Vatican press office noted that Diaz spoke with Francis, saying he “expressed his gratitude to the Holy Father for the audience, and what it means in terms of interest and support. He described the difficulties that the indigenous peoples of Argentina and Latin America suffer, as well as his concern for the protection of their rights, especially in regard to their territory and cultural identity.”
Diaz told ZENIT that they came to Rome, “to a man, as Pope Francis is, who was close to us in those difficult moments.”
The Qom leader reported to journalists that on Nov. 23, 2010, “we were suppressed, expelled with the intervention of the police. They killed one of our brothers of our Indian community and burnt 17 houses that they doused with fuel. We had to flee from Formosa to the Federal Capital.”
After five months camping in Buenos Aires, they said they waited in vain for government officials to meet with them.
The Indian leader said that in that historic moment, then-Cardinal Bergoglio “was talking with us and he knows the Indian problem. We don’t belong to the Church but we trust in the capacity of many good people who understand the Indian people.”
Peace through dialogue
Diaz said that three years after the November 2010 event, they are still waiting to meet with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
“Dialogue is the only way out of a conflict,” he said. “Peace through dialogue, we aren’t warriors or murderers or savages.
“The Pope told us he knows perfectly what is happening in Argentina and he appreciated the Indians’ gesture, who want to dialogue, and believes that this might be the way out for the people and for the Argentine state.”
Father Nazar of the vicariate of Formosa said that the Pope “listened a lot to Felix Diaz. They were words that penetrated the Pope’s heart; it was reflected on his face. And he ended by asking: ‘Why don’t they talk with you?'”
He said Francis added that a lack of dialogue is “a pity” because “dialogue isn’t like bingo lottery. One buys to win, and that isn’t dialogue. Dialogue isn’t to win but to understand one another and to listen to one another.”
“The Pope did not say what he would or would not do,” Diaz added.
Perez Esquivel estimated that the meeting lasted some 40 minutes. “We spoke about several subjects, beginning with the problem of the Indian communities.”
Pope Francis expressed his concern and said the meeting should serve for the government to begin to dialogue with the indigenous communities, Perez indicated.
“He didn’t say much to us, but he will see what he can do and we hope the President will receive us,” he said, adding that the problem lies in the fact that the local governor is a political ally of the national government. This highlighted the larger dimension of the problem, “of a global nature, with the Mapuches, the Coyas, the Guaranis and other ethnic groups that suffer similar difficulties,” he noted.
Felix’s wife, Amanda Asijak, of the Qom community, referred to situations of violence, such as the one her son suffered due to the beatings he received. “We have been fighting for many years on the subject of land and we find no answer. I’m happy to see the Pope, it’s like a dream for me,” she said,
She added, “I have suffered much as a mother and a woman, and we bear that pain that is ours to live.” She asked that women’s rights be recognized “because before I didn’t know them, and now I have learned and I know that I must continue to struggle as a native woman, for my daughters, for the Qom people.”