Native peoples petition the pope

Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Hawaiians and Caribbean Indians lit candles and sang in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday, appealing to Pope John Paul II to repeal a 500-year-old edict they claim justified colonialism.

The men and women, no more than a dozen, ended their protest by presenting a copy of the 1493 papal edict, "Inter Caetera," to the Vatican’s Swiss Guards.

"Take this back. We have no use of it. We never did,’ " Steve Newcomb, director of the Eugene, Ore.-based Indigenous Law Institute, said, recounting his words to the doublet-uniformed guards.

"And I told them to make sure it gets to the pope," Newcomb said.

The edict, a solemn document of a kind known as papal bulls, was issued by Alexander VI, a year after Columbus first strayed onto the Americas.

It authorized Christian countries to occupy and convert any non-Christian nation.

Issued on behalf of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, it asserted the supremacy of Christianity over paganism, making non-Christian indigenous people subject to the domination and enslavement of the Spanish crown.

It hasn’t been enforced in centuries.

"We hold the church entirely responsible for the loss of land, lives and culture we have suffered," said Newcomb, who sent an open letter to the pope raising the issue in 1992. "The bull perfectly symbolizes the violence that continues to afflict the world."

During the Holy Year, John Paul has repeatedly asked for forgiveness for Roman Catholics’ mistakes in past centuries.

"It seems this is a good time, if any," said Ha’aheo Guanson, who wore a coconut garland and a colorful cloth wrapped around her.

For the past three years, the indigenous people have gathered in front of the Roman Catholic diocese of Honolulu to burn a copy of the edict.

They hoped this year for a meeting with John Paul, but met instead Wednesday with an undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"It’s easy. He should just say ‘I’m sorry," Kamealoha Hanohano, a professor of linguistics at the Hawaii University in Honolulu. "It’d be good enough."

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