Pope Benedict made his first visit to Brazil convening a 19 day conference of Latin American Bishops. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world and is also a country where there is a clear challenge to the church. In his speeches, Pope Benedict warned against moving away from Catholic values and suggested that those values are the answer to present social and economic issues. He blamed the gap between the rich and the poor on Marxism and capitalism in the region as well as the growth of Protestantism. The Pope drew a lower turnout then expected, reflecting the decreasing influence of the Catholic Church as well as the weaker appeal of this Pope in comparison to Pope John Paul II.
In response to the Pope’s visit and statements, Indian leaders stated they were outraged and offended by the Pope’s “arrogant and disrespectful” comments regarding the imposition of the Church on the indigenous people. Pope Benedict said that the indigenous people welcomed the arrival of European Priests and were “silently longing” for Christianity. However, millions of Indians died from slaughter, disease or enslavement as a result of the European colonization supported by the Catholic Church. Today, Indians still struggle for survival as they have been deprived of their traditional ways of life.
Brazil is home to over 450,000 Indians who mostly inhabit small reserves with few opportunities to make a living. Many Indian groups sent an open letter to the Pope asking for support in defending their ancestral lands against the government as they have suffered a “process of genocide” since the first colonization began. The letter stated that the assassination of Indian leaders was still occurring from people who invaded their lands. Jecinald Satere Mawe, of the Amazon Indian group Coiab, stated that it was arrogant and disrespectful of the Pope to “consider our cultural heritage secondary to theirs.” In addition to Indian groups being outraged, the Pope also angered Catholic priests who have joined the struggle of the Indians. Sandro Tuxa, who heads northeastern tribal movement, stated that the Pope had been poorly advised and that his statements were offensive and frightening. Cimi, Catholic Churches own Indian advocacy group in Brazil distanced itself from the Pope after his comments.
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