tampabay.com

Pope's remark draws fire

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 16, 2007


SAO PAULO, Brazil - Indian rights groups are criticizing Pope Benedict XVI for insisting that Latin American Indians wanted to become Christian before European conquerors arrived centuries ago.

The pope said Sunday that pre-Columbian people of Latin America and the Caribbean were seeking Christ without realizing it. "Christ is the savior for whom they were silently longing, " Benedict told a regional conference of bishops in Brazil.

But Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, said Monday that the comments fail to account for the fact that Indians were enslaved and killed by the Portuguese and Spanish settlers who forced them to become Catholic.

Benedict "is a good theologian, but it seems he missed some history classes, " said Suess, whose council is supported by the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope 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."

But Marcio Meira, who is in charge of Brazil's federal Indian Bureau, said Indians were forced to convert to Catholicism as the result of a colonial process.

"As an anthropologist and a historian I feel obliged to say that, yes, in the past 500 years there was an imposition of the Catholic religion on the indigenous people, " Meira said.

In Guatemala, where 42 percent of the nation's 12-million people call themselves Indian, the former presidential commissioner on racism said the pope's comments were a step backward.

"To say that there was no imposition is a falsification in light of the history if those that did not accept the faith were flagellated, " said Ricardo Cajas.

Brazil once had an estimated 2, 000 Indian tribes, but many have died out or assimilated into the general population since the nation was settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, according to the Indian Missionary Council. Brazil's 2000 census found about 700, 000 Indians in Latin America's most populous country.