Brazil's National Indian Foundation (Funai),Brazilian historians and the Indians themselves challenged pope Benedict XVI's declarations on the Christianization of the Brazil's natives. The pope talked about the subject at the opening of the 5th General Conference of the Latin-American and Caribbean Episcopate (CELAM), in Brazil.
"The preaching about Jesus and his Gospel didn't imply, in any moment, an alienation of the pre-Colombian cultures, nor was it an imposition of a foreign culture," Benedict XVI declared.
For the acting president of Funai (National Indian Foundation),Â Aloysio Antonio Castelo Guapindaia, the pontiff's positions don't correspond to the reality of what occurred in Brazil. "Certainly there was an imposition of religion in order to subjugate the local populations," Guapindaia said.
Waldir Rampinelli, an expert in Latin America history, who is a professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), the pope's statement ignores history: "Of course his declaration makes no sense. To deny this is to deny the obvious. The pope should read Bartolomé de Las Casas."
De Las Casas, who lived from 1472 to 1566, was a friar who defended the Indians and chronicled America's conquest by the European. He's believed to be the first European to concede that Indians were human. According to Rampinelli, the pope's declaration shows that the Church hasn't evolved in its knowledge of and respect for other cultures.
Brazilian Indians, on the other hand, have reacted with anger to Pope Benedict XVI's claim that their ancestors had been "silently longing" to become Christians when Brazil was colonized 500 years ago.
Jecinaldo Sateré Mawé of the Amazonian Sateré Mawé tribe called the Pope's remarks "arrogant and disrespectful."
Today, the indigenous population of Brazil is less than 7% of what it was in 1500. Of a thousand distinct tribes, only about 220 remain.
The Catholic Church's Indian advocacy group in Brazil has called the Pope's statement, 'wrong and indefensible'. Before the Pope made his comments, Indian leaders had written to him about the threats they continue to face, and expressed their gratitude for the support of missionaries and the church in Brazil in fighting for their rights.
Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, "It is tragic that unlike previous popes who have visited Brazil, His Holiness did not meet with Indian leaders, and made no public reference to the genocide visited upon the indigenous peoples of Brazil over the past 500 years."
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