Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Church Fathers of Latin America

by Jesús Espeja (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Iglesia se hace diálogo blog
12/21/2011

On December 21st 500 years ago on Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, Fray Antonio Montesinos delivered the famous sermon denouncing the abuses of the colonizers against the defenseless indigenous people (see video re-enactment below). That denunciation and similar ones in different regions of the Indies were the first cry of a Church that, especially in the 20th century, rejuvenated Latin America and is light for all Christian communities in the world. The subject well deserves a reflection on this day.

Whether in favor or against, who hasn't heard of "liberation theology"? It was a very significant movement in the middle of the last century in Latin America, especially after Vatican II. Its starting point was reality: the impoverished majority whose exclusion was now humanly intolerable and who lifted their voices to get out of an inhumane situation.

Christian sensitivities that experienced a compassionate God as revealed in Jesus Christ's historical actions could not remain impassive to that righteous cry, and logically the Church sided with the poor. And the Church wasn't just the theologians with their reflections, nor was it just the so-called base Christian communities that had been born among the poor and simple people, thanks to the Holy Spirit. It was also the bishops in the General Conferences. From the one held at Medellin in 1968 to the one that took place in Aparecida in 2007, the bishops have remained faithful to the preferential option for the poor.

It's true that the Roman Curia still has its reservations about this movement. But it is also true that this movement of the poor, processed through theological reflection, was accepted at the General Conferences of the Latin American bishops, and has been encouraged in the speeches of the last three popes. How can one not see this acceptance in the 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis? There are many currents in this theological movement, and it isn't fair to just talk about liberation theology, whether speaking ill or well of it. But at least it's a line I know a bit about; it seems to me to be very evangelical and scientifically serious.

Just as an example, there are names like Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Jon Sobrino and others to whom we owe theological reflections that have been partially heard and could be very healthy for European theology. This theology has somehow received an endorsement at the CELAM General Conferences, which have been implementing Vatican II's invitation to read the signs of the times and discern in them the signs of the Holy Spirit.

We have a good basis to conclude that there is a tradition in the Latin American Church. Montesinos, Bartolomé de Las Casas and other prophets were its first Fathers. But that tradition is alive and has been renewed in others like bishops Helder Cámara, Evaristo Arns, Leónidas Proaño, Samuel Ruiz, Mons. Romero, Méndez Arceo, Jesús Calderón, Silva Henriquez, Gerardi, Pedro Casaldáliga, Tomás Balduino, Raúl Vera, Julio Cabrera, Ramazzini...

That tradition has been -- and continues to be -- a grace for the whole Church that we should celebrate with gratitude as we remember Montesinos' sermon.

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