VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI, who has been criticized by Indian rights groups, said Wednesday the church does not gloss over the injustices that accompanied the Christian colonization of Latin America and lamented that indigenous peoples’ basic rights were often trampled upon by missionaries.
“While we do not overlook the various injustices and sufferings which accompanied colonization, the Gospel has expressed and continues to express the identity of the peoples in this region and provides inspiration to address the challenges of our globalized era,” Benedict told English-speaking pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square as he talked about his trip to Brazil earlier this month.
Benedict said that his visit to Brazil, his first papal voyage to Latin America, “embraced not only that great nation, but all Latin America, home to many of the world’s Catholics.” He described the trip as being “above all, a pilgrimage of praise to God for the faith which has shaped their cultures for over 500 years.”
“Certainly, the memory of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the work of evangelizing the Latin American continent,” the pope said.
Benedict’s remarks to Italian-speaking pilgrims at his general audience were even stronger than the comments in English.
“It is not possible, indeed, to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled on,” Benedict said.
The pontiff said he was making a “dutiful mention of such unjustifiable crimes” and said some missionaries and theologians in the past had condemned them.
Indian rights groups in Brazil criticized Benedict for his insistence that Latin American Indians wanted to become Christian before European conquerors arrived centuries ago.
During the trip, the pontiff told a regional conference of bishops in Brazil that pre-Columbian people of Latin America and the Caribbean were seeking Christ without realizing it.
Paulo Suess, an adviser to the church-backed Brazil’s Indian Missionary Council, said at the end of the trip that Benedict’s comments failed to take into account that Indians were enslaved and killed by the Portuguese and Spanish settlers who forced them to become Catholic.
Marcio Meira, in charge of Brazil’s federal Indian Bureau, said Indians were forced to convert to Catholicism as the result of a “colonial process.”
The pope in Brazil told the bishops that “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.”
In 2000, during the Vatican’s Holy Year, the Catholic Church apologized to Brazil’s Indians and blacks during a ceremony in Brazil for the “sins and errors” committed by its clergy and faithful in the past 500 years. A Vatican cardinal representing Pope John Paul II participated in the ceremony, which saw the head of Brazil’s bishops conference ask God for forgiveness for the sins committed against brothers, especially the Indians.