Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Liberation theology at 40: Balance and perspectives

by Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Volume 11, No. 32, October/December 2013, pp. 1357-1377


Writing about Liberation Theology (LT), its evolution and future horizons, is not that easy. First, because we still don't have enough historical perspective to observe its process serenely and with distance. Second, because there is already a vast literature on this subject. Rather than summarizing liberation theology's 40 years of existence, this article describes its development from three main theological events: the first meeting organized in El Escorial, Spain (1972), a second meeting held in the same place, in 1992, and the meeting held in Brazil, in 2012, at the University of Unisinos in Sao Leopoldo. The first meeting was marked by the paradigm of Exodus and the second by the paradigm of Exile. The meeting held at Sao Leopoldo, in turn, opened new perspectives for the future, new themes and new subjects. The election of Pope Francis and his option for a poor Church for the poor means a sign of hope for the Church and also for a liberating theology.


It isn't easy to write about liberation theology (LT), its evolution and future prospects, in part because we still lack sufficient historical perspective to be able to serenely observe its process from a distance, and in part because there is already abundant literature on this subject.

Without wanting to make any bibliographical boast, I would like to cite Mysterium liberationis as a comprehensive presentation of LT since its beginnings1 and the book edited by L.C. [Luiz Carlos] Susin, El mar se abrió ["The sea opened"] (Sal Terrae, 2001), where a balance of the last 30 years of Latin American theology is made. Also some magazines have devoted extraordinary editions to marking the 40th anniversary of LT.2

Therefore, to avoid repeating what is already known and to give this text a more experiential and narrative character, I will confine myself to my experience of having participated in three meetings or conferences on LT: El Escorial (Madrid) 1972, El Escorial (Madrid) 1992, and Unisinos (Sao Leopoldo) 2012.

There have undoubtedly been other important conferences and meetings on LT, for example those of the Association of Third World theologians in Mexico (1975), Detroit (1975), Dar es Salaam (1976), meetings on LT on the occasion of meetings of the World Social Forum, meetings of feminist theologians, indigenous theologians, etc. But I'm going to limit myself and focus on the three meetings indicated earlier, not just because I participated actively in them but because they sufficiently and significantly cover the distance travelled by LT over the 40 years.

1. The El Escorial-Madrid Meeting, 1972

Although it may seem strange, a large part of the liberation theologians who lived dispersed by Latin American geography met for the first time in Spain at the 1972 meeting in El Escorial (Madrid). And also, paradoxically, this encounter, sponsored by the Instituto Fe y Secularidad in Madrid which was directed by Alfonso Alvarez Bolado, took place next to the Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built by King Phillip II, where lie buried the sovereigns of the House of Austria who consolidated the conquest and colonization of Spanish America. We would add that it was held right in the middle of the Franco dictatorship with interventions by the Spanish police to investigate who was meeting and what that meeting was about. They might have thought it was about something "subversive"...3

The date of this meeting is symptomatic both from the socio-political and the ecclesial standpoint. After the Cuban Revolution (1959), profound social changes had happened in Latin America -- in Peru and Chile, for example -- while the military dictatorship began in Brazil. The figure of Che Guevara, killed by soldiers in Bolivia in 1967, became a myth for the younger generations and many believed that the socialism that had begun in Chile with Allende would spread quickly throughout Latin America.

In the ecclesial context, the Church was experiencing the post-conciliar stage of Paul VI who in 1967 had published the encyclical Populorum Progressio and in 1968 had convened the meeting in Medellin. Medellin was a truly pentecostal event for Latin America since at this conference, Vatican II was received and creatively taken up by the Latin American continent. The bishops in Medellin heard the cry of the poor and oppressed people, discerned in this cry a sign of the times and decided to respond to this clamor and accompany the people in their desire for justice and liberation from the structures of sin, to go from inhumane conditions of life to more humane and just living conditions.

The paradigm of the Exodus, absent from the ecclesiological reflection of Vatican II on the People of God (LG II), clearly flourished at Medellin. It seems that John XXIII's dream of a Church of the poor began to come true in Latin America...

The 1972 El Escorial meeting was not a meeting of Christians for socialism but a theological conference where the speakers and seminar leaders represented a broad spectrum of a family of different options, all of them beyond developmentalism, and that would become the basic nucleus of what would later be called LT. In 1971, Gustavo Gutierrez published his book A Theology of Liberation in Peru, but in 1968 Rubem Alves, a Protestant, had already published his doctoral thesis, called "Towards a Theology of Liberation" [Translator's Note: The thesis was later published by Corpus Books under the title A Theology of Human Hope]. So LT was born ecumenical.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the El Escorial Meeting (1972) was in fact, if not a founding point for LT, a fundamental moment for its constitution as a theological line.

Consistent with the Latin American theological position of starting from reality and discerning the signs of the times, the El Escorial meeting began by pointing out the economic factors and political forces present in the liberation process (R. Ames), the history of Christian faith and social change in Latin America (E. Dussel), and the social movements and ideologies in Latin America (J. Comblin).

This social-ecclesial framework allows us to point out that Latin America does not just live under the paradigm of underdevelopment but of dependence and that it must fight for liberation, one alternative of which might be the socialist option.

In this context and in light of the history of the evangelization of Latin America, LT is a prophetic moment of reflection that seeks to react against the idolatrous ideology of Western power that, in the conquest, contaminated the Christian faith. The social movements of Latin America are anti-imperialist and populist and they don't use Marxism as inspiration but as a tool of social analysis to overcome the dependency-oppression situation.

This liberating task is ecumenical and transconfessional (J. Miguez Bonino) and goes beyond a purely individualistic vision of the Christian faith. It also seeks to analyze the phenomena of the superstructure facing the real struggle for liberation. Theological concepts such as God, sin, salvation, etc. must be reformulated from this viewpoint.

But it was undoubtedly Gustavo Gutierrez's presentation on the Gospel and liberating praxis that caused the greatest impact and commotion at El Escorial as it didn't just show the spiritual dimension of the encounter with Christ in the poor as the requirement of a theological task that does not reduce salvation to the socio-economic or socio-political, even saying that salvation is given through liberating historical mediation. Hence the deep relationship between faith, theology and liberating praxis. Theology is a second act.

Personally my attention was drawn to the importance given at this meeting to folk religion -- a synthesis between Catholicism and ancestral traditions -- which by its great depth and extensiveness can play a decisive, positive or negative role in the liberation process. The addresses by A. Buntig, S. Galilea and J. C. Scannone's affection for this subject were new and shocking to the European secular world, very critical of popular religiosity which it considered preconciliar and alienating.

I personally participated in a seminar on the new forms of religious life and religious communities in Latin America, led by CLAR (M. Edwards and Maria Agudelo) where the importance of the option for the poor and the presence of small religious communities in working class environments and neighborhoods -- what was later called inserted religious life -- was stressed.

It's difficult to synthesize what this first meeting in El Escorial represented but I can highlight some of the contributions that I found most significant:

  • We were facing an epistemological breakthrough, a new way of doing theology, a theology that was not merely a reflection of European theology as before, but part of the historical reality of the poor and oppressed Latin American people, fighting for social change and their liberation from unjust and dependent structures. 4

  • This new theology wasn't partial or genitive. It wasn't reduced to political morality or the Church's social doctrine but was a global vision of Christian faith from a different theological place, from the poor and oriented towards liberating praxis.

  • Unlike the secular developed European and North Atlantic world, this theology began from a people both deeply religious and Christian and poor.

  • This theology, like all authentic theological reflection, was born of a deep spiritual experience -- the mystery of Christ present in the poor, something really evangelical, Nazarene, and paschal.

  • Socio-analytical recourse to social science is not the driving force of this theology, but an instrument of mediation that should be used with critical discernment in light of the gospel, without idolizing or demonizing it, as the Fathers of the Church did with Platonism and Saint Thomas with Aristotelianism in their time.

  • Within this family of different options, there were already at El Escorial more ideologized positions (H. Assmann) and more gospel positions (G. Gutierrez), more elitist tendencies (J. L. Segundo) and more populist ones (S. Galilea, R. Poblete, J.C. Scannone), more sociological, historical and political approaches (R, Ames, J. L. Segundo, G. Arroyo, E. Dussel) and more ecclesial and pastoral ones (Mons. Candido Padin, N. Zevallos, C. de Lora, M. Agudelo).

The general tone of the meeting was positive, hopeful, utopic, almost too optimistic. There was a speech by J. I. Gonzalez Faus in which he exhorted us not to forget about the cross. What happened in the following years (military dictatorships, persecution, martyrdom, conflicts with Rome...) proved J. I. Gonzalez Faus's prophetic warning right.

We could summarize this meeting by saying that it took place under the paradigm of Exodus -- an enslaved and oppressed people who are seeking their liberation from dependency and slavery.

Finally, let's say that the speakers and presenters at El Escorial (1972) were the first generation of initiators of LT. Other theological figures who would play a very significant role later in LT such as I. Ellacuria, J. Sobrino, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, J. B. Libanio, Frei Betto, C. Mesters, R. Muñoz, P. Richard, C. Bravo, P. Trigo, D. Irarrazaval...were not among the presenters.

Nor were women present among the speakers. On this point too there would be notable change later since more and more women would participate in the liberation theology stream -- Ivonne Gebara, Maria Clara L. de Bingemer, Elsa Tamez, Ana Maria Tepidinho, Teresa Porcile, Carmelita Freitas, Georgina Zubiria, Alcira Agreda, Maricarmen Bracamonte, Luzia Weiler, Sofia Chipana, Isabel Barroso, Antonieta Potente, Gisella Gomez, Adriana Curaqueo, Marcela Bonafede, Maria Jose Caram, Barbara Brucker, Margot Bremen, Vilma Moreira, Vera Bonbonatto, Viginia Azcuy, Consuelo Velez...

This first meeting at El Escorial contrasted a lot with the second El Escorial meeting, twenty years later in 1992.

2. The 1992 El Escorial Meeting

The social and ecclesial context had changed profoundly. Latin America has experienced hard years of military dictatorships especially in Central America and the Southern Cone. The ideology of the National Security Doctrine had led to persecution, exile, torture and murder which, in reaction, had caused guerrilla insurgency movements. Besides the well-known martyrdom of Romero and Angelelli, of theologians such as Ellacuria and his UCA colleagues, men and women religious, there were real massacres of peasants, labor leaders, indigenous people, catechists, women, pastoral agents, etc. It was the Good Friday of the Passion of the people.

The triumph of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (1979) and the slow recovery of weak democracies in several nations generated some hopeful relief. But poverty in those years had increased, the gap between rich and poor had grown, and foreign debt, drug trafficking, and violence (Shining Path, Colombian guerrillas ...) has increased as well.

At the world level, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) had changed the geopolitical scene. Neoliberal capitalism proclaimed itself the only universal salvation and the end of history (F. Fukuyama).

As for the Catholic Church, the pontificate of John Paul II inaugurated a new stage in which the Pope projected onto the whole Church his Polish experience, a pre-modern experience in church matters and post-Marxist in social ones (Gonzalez Faus, 2005). The image of John Paul II at the airport in Managua reprimanding priest-poet and Sandinista minister of culture Ernesto Cardenal, who knelt at his feet, became famous. Obando would be the new Wyszynski. It seemed like a Doctrine of Ecclesial Security was initiated for the whole Church with John Paul II.

LT was harshly criticized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Libertatis nuntius, 1984).5 J. L Segundo responded to Ratzinger and accused him of attacking not just LT but Vatican II itself. (Segundo, 1985). A second much more nuanced Instruction (Libertatis conscientia, 1986)6 lowered the tone of the first one and acknowledged that the concept of liberation has a Christian basis. 7 Later, in 1986, John Paul II wrote to the Brazilian bishops meeting at Itaici that LT, well understood and rooted in biblical and church tradition, is not only timely but useful and necessary for Latin America.

The conference at Puebla (1979) upheld the see-judge-act method of Medellin and supported the preferential option for the poor, but it didn't have the prophetic dynamism of Medellin.

The conference in Santo Domingo (1992) which was held three months after the El Escorial meeting (1992) to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first evangelization, changed Latin American methodology and its theme was a new evangelization, human promotion, and Christian culture. This change in methodology meant a change of course, a return to a more conservative position, a change of direction in pastoral ministry, although at Santo Domingo in fact there was significant openness towards Afro-descendent and indigenous cultures and some attention given to modern culture, called upcoming culture ["cultura adveniente"] (Codina, 2013, pp. 200-211).

In this environment, the 1992 El Escorial meeting took place, convened again by the Instituto Fe y secularidad in Madrid (Comblin et al, 1993).

Gustavo Gutierrez didn't attend because of an "insurmountable conflict of dates and other difficulties," but he has great memories of the El Escorial (1972) meeting, stating that it meant a lot for the development of theological reflection in Latin America. He recognizes that in those years poverty had been increasing in Latin America and that there were companions along the way who had given their lives to the end and he urges us to stubbornly maintain hope and Easter joy, remembering with Bartolome de Las Casas that God has a recent vivid memory of the poor.8

Leonardo Boff, who during those years had suffered harsh warnings, confrontations and criticism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which imposed a year of silence on him -- fulfilled faithfully and penitentially -- also wrote a letter to the participants of the meeting telling them he had left the Franciscan order and the ministry, but that he would go on fighting for the liberation of the poor and following Jesus and his cause.

Methodology starting from Latin American reality, both social (M. A. Garreton, X. Gorostiaga) and ecclesial (J. Comblin), was upheld at the meeting. Exodus (C. Bravo), the base communities (R.Muñoz) 9 and the popular dimension of theology (D. Irarrazaval) were reflected upon, but there were important novelties: LT was then converted into a theology of martyrdom (J.Sobrino), there was a presence of feminist theology in Latin America (Ivonne Gebara), criticisms and self-criticisms of LT were presented (J.L.Segundo)10, room was made for dialogue with other theologies in the liberation line from Europe (J.B.Metz), Africa (J.Lois) and Asia (G.Gispert Sauch), and it focused on the subject of the future of LT in Latin America (P.Trigo) and the Church in Latin America (Mons. A. Celso Queiroz).

The presentation they had asked from me concerning Latin American faith versus Western disenchantment, compared the Western logic of instrumental reason (both the First and the Second Illustration) with the more symbolic reason proper to Latin America, which earned me the accusation by some Spaniards of being overly critical of Western enlightened modernity and wanting to return to a medieval and baroque Christianity, something I never thought about... On the other hand, I think the Latin American participants at the meeting understood it perfectly.

Perhaps J.B. Libanio's presentation was the one that best summarized the key theses of the road travelled over those 20 years (Libanio, 1993, pp. 57-78):

  • From a Christology of the historical Jesus in the context of following and identification with the poor, through a liberating Trinity, to an incipient pneumatology;

  • from salvation as liberation passing through mediation in history to the creation of utopia in reference to the kingdom, above all in the struggle for life;

  • from an ecclesiology of community experiences to a real ecclesiogenesis in a radical reinterpretation of power and ministry in the Church, in relation to the kingdom and the world;

  • from a transformative conception of the actions of man, to the creation of the new earth and new heaven with openness to ecology and the problem of the earth;

  • from a theology concerned with social structures to a theology open to the cultures (ethnicities) in view of a real inculturation and insertion in the double dimension of practice and fiesta of the Latin American people.

Surely Libanio's theses showed not only what LT had changed over those twenty years, but also perspectives of the future to which it was opening itself. For his part, J. I. Gonzalez Faus summed up what had been experienced theologically at the meeting as the step from an immediate alternative to long term ferment (Comblin et al, 1993, pp. 343-346).

Synthesizing the experience of this second El Escorial meeting (1992) and comparing it to the 1972 meeting, I would say that it moved from the prophetic and liberating enthusiasm of the Exodus to the hard situation of the people of Israel in the Exile -- a time of grace, conversion and spirituality, of reaffirmation of faith and strengthening of the sense of community, of openness to foreign cultures and religions. In the context of the Exile and the post-Exile emerged the canticles of the Servant of Yahweh, the faith in God the creator of heaven and earth, the wisdom books, women's protagonism, openness to the erotic dimension of love, the first reflections on suffering, evil and death.

In this second El Escorial meeting (1992), as in the Exile from Israel, the suffering and martyrdom of the people and the theologians themselves were noted, a painful and penitential purification, a certain weakness and perhaps nostalgia for the past were experienced but also greater maturity in wisdom, greater spirituality and some openness to various other realities not intuited before or at least not spelled out: gender and sexuality, cultures and religions, earth and cosmos...and all of it in a climate of paschal hope, amid the dark night of ecclesial winter and the silence of God. (Codina, 2013, p. 191-194).

3. Continental Theology Congress, Unisinos, Sao Leopoldo, 2012.

The backdrop of this event was the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 40th anniversary of LT. Convened and sponsored by a number of theological institutions (Amerindia, Unisinos University, Javeriana University, Soter, the Asociacion Teologica de Mexico...), it took place in a different climate from the previous meeting: under the pontificate of Benedict XVI, after the Aparecida Assembly (2007), with the participation of 750 people young and old, laymen and laywomen, men and women religious, priests, 23 bishops, and sisters and brothers from other denominations, coming from various countries in Lain America and the Caribbean, from North America and Europe.

During its preparation, there was no shortage of Roman pressure on the convening universities, questioning and slowing down its happening. Other groups in the Church critcized the presence of theologians they considered suspicious like Boff, Sobrino, Frei Betto... and they believed the Congress would be a strong criticism of and attack on the hierarchical Church.

None of this happened, the conference unfolded in an atmosphere of serenity and ecclesial feeling, like an exercise in discerning the different hermeneutics of Vatican II and the signs of the times, with a both celebrative and prospective character, in a climate of prayer and ecclesial communion.11

As Agenor Brighenti, the coordinator of Amerindia, stated in the presentation on the pretext and context of the Congress 12, the Congress followed the big thematic core ideas of LT: theology as a second act (G.Gutierrez), theology of captivity (L. Boff), a theology that exercises intellectus misericordiae (J. Sobrino), a LT that is a liberator of theology (J. L. Segundo), a theology that is non cynical (H. Assmann), prophetic (J.Comblin), expressed from a Church of liberation (J. B. Libanio).

Within the commemorative dimension of the Congress, there was an emotional remembrance of now deceased theologians: J. L. Segundo, H. Assmann, J. Comblin, C. Bravo, S. Galilea, I. Ellacuria, X. Gorostiaga, R. Muñoz, Teresa Porcile, Carmelita Freitas, Antonio Parecida da Silva (Toninho), A. Antoniazzi, J. Jimenez Limon, M. de C. Azevedo...

Gustavo Gutierrez could not attend for health reasons but sent a communication from the University of Notre Dame in the US via video conference in which he exhorted the young theologians to be rigorous, deep, close to the communities inserted in the world, and to give their lives for the poor. He reminded all the participants to follow the line of the best of Latin American theology -- "close to God and close to the poor" -- a phrase that might sum up the sense of the Congress and that was taken up in its final message.

New men (C. Mendoza) and women (Geraldine Cespedes, Marilu Rojas) theological figures participated in the presentations, however the scant female presence in the presentations and the absence of indigenous and Afro-descendent theologians was criticized, even though there was a female and indigenous presence in the afternoon workshops and seminars.

It isn't easy to synthesize what was most novel about the Congress but one ought to mention the ecoliberating and ecofeminist dimension of theology (L. Boff, Marilu Rojas), the dialogue with cultures and new subjects (L. C. Susin), a new liberating paradigm that, moves forward on issues like the modern and postmodern globalized knowledge society while maintaining the option for the poor and following the historical Jesus, affects liturgy and popular religiosity, fosters new ecclesial structures, a greater legal concretion of Vatican II and Medellin, a new theological language and family ministry in diverse forms... (J. B. Libanio).

There were references to the liberation theologies of Asia (P. C. Phan) and to modern European theology, very anchored in modern secularism and in that sense a bit alienated from the popular religious world of Latin America (A. Torres Queiruga).

In my presentation on the Churches of the continent 50 years after Vatican II and some pending issues, I commented on the Latin American reception of Vatican II which occured mainly beginning with Gaudium et Spes and its theology of the signs of the times in Medellin, in addition to questioning some aspects of classical LT: Too moralistic and voluntaristic? Risk of millenarianism? Very paternalistic and patriarchal? Little sensitivity to themes such as gratuity, celebration, sexuality, health? And mainly I stressed the need to elaborate pneumatology from below, from the poor that would help to understand from within the irruption of the poor in society and in the Church, the pluralism of subjects, primordial sanctity and martyrdom, the new signs of the times, etc...

Undoubtedly the Congress had a certain not just commemorative but nostalgic (saudade!) sense of the glorious years of the 70s and 80s and the photo of the "dinausors" present at the Unisinos Congress was significant.13 Clodovis Boff, E. Dussel, Ivonne Gebara, R. Oliveros...who are part of the history of LT...did not attend the Congress.

This brief sketch and constrained synthesis of the Unisinos Congress can not express the richness of the presentations and workshops, but it shows the guiding principles that became evident during those days. As the final message states, LT "is alive and continues to inspire the searches and commitments of the new generation of theologians. But sometimes it's an ember that is hidden under the ashes. In that sense, this congress became a breath that rekindled the fire of that theology that wants to keep on being the fire that lights other fires in Church and society." 14

The large influx of young people in Unisinos is a sign of hope for the future. There is something non-negotiable: following the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the option for the poor. But there are many new subjects and themes: youth, women, indigenous and Afro-descendent people, cultures, religions, ecology, pneumatology ... The socio-analytical analysis of the 70s and 80s is undeniable, but it must be completed with an anthropological analysis of gender, age, cultures and religions, ecology. There is not one LT but many liberation theologies. There are differences within a common family atmosphere.

If LT has always started from social and ecclesial reality, a profound historic change like the one we are experiencing can not fail to impact and influence LT. There is a deep crisis in the economic and social systems hitherto in force. There is general dissatisfaction expressed in the indignation of youth and the desire for a different world. At the religious and spiritual level too we are facing an axial change of times that has been in place for centuries, perhaps since the Neolithic era and involves a profound change in the structuring of religions (Jaspers, 1953). We are being shaken, worldwide, by a kind of earthquake or tsunami of hitherto unknown proportions.

Latin America is also experiencing profound changes both at the socio-political and the ecclesial level. At the political level we will mention the whole movement and process that has been called "21st century Socialism", the emergence of new powers such as Brazil, the migration phenomena, drug trafficking, youth gangs, the increase in violence and public insecurity, the awakening of indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples, the discontent and bewilderment of the young, the impact of new technologies, the fragility of the family, the problem of gender and new ways of living out sexuality, climate change and ecological problems, etc...

At the church level, even though a deep religious sense remains in the vast majority of the people, there is a great diversity of religious and spiritual options, from the return to ancestral religions and a rejection of Christianity -- branded as colonial -- to agnosticism and atheism, passing through folk Catholics who hold the beliefs but have little sense of belonging to the Church, aware and committed Catholics, evangelical and Pentecostal communities, Asian religions, etc.. The Church of Christendom is dying, although its disappearance is very slow and uneven depending on the country.

Latin America, considered up to now the spiritual preserve of the Catholic Church -- a sort of "Christian Amazonia", the continent of hope -- is now in crisis and threatened, like Amazonia itself...Aparecida acknowledged that a faith reduced to moralisms, disjointed concepts and sacramental practices will not withstand the onslaught of modern times.15 Hence the urgent invitation of Aparecida to move from being merely the baptized to disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. Isn't all this panoramic change a challenge for the LT of the future?


I think the three meetings (El Escorial 1972, El Escorial 1992, and Unisinos, Sao Leopoldo, 2012) indicate clearly enough the journey, vicissitudes, changes and challenges of LT.

But life goes on and history always brings novelties and surprises. Since the Unisinos Congress was held in October 2012 to the present, we have experienced an unexpected change in church leadership -- the exemplary resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of the new bishop of Rome, Francis.

The ecclesial consequences of these changes are difficult to know and unpredictable, but we can not forget that the figure of Josef Ratzinger, first as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as pope, has played an important role in the reception of Vatican II and very specifically in the Roman evaluation of LT. It's enough to remember the very critical statements he has expressed from the beginning towards the breakthrough interpretation that has been given Vatican II and in particular towards LT which he considered to be infected by Marxism and which, at best, he labeled as moral politics but not as being a genuine theology in the style of European theologies.16 With Ratzinger's resignation, a post-conciliar period is closed and it seems that the ecclesial winter is over.

This is because the new bishop of Rome, Francis, opens new horizons for the Church and for Latin American theology itself. We will not repeat everything that has already been written about the new symbolic gestures and new language that has been used, signs of a new ecclesial climate reminiscent of the climate inaugurated by John XXIII and the subsequent, albeit brief, post-conciliar spring.

Francis' insistence on the poor Church for the poor converges greatly with the basic intuitions of LT, although surely the liberating aspect of Bergoglio's theology owes more to Argentine theology (Lucio Gera, Juan Carlos Scannone,...) than to other more ideological and dialectical forms of liberating theology.

This explains not only his sensitivity towards the poor and towards a Church in solidarity with them, but his appreciation and respect for the faith of simple people, popular religiosity, the wisdom and culture of the poor. To this are added his openness to the religions of humankind, his missionary perspective, the desire for a church that is not self-referential and enclosed in its walls but a Church that goes out into the street, goes to the frontiers, to the existential peripheries, even at the risk of possible accidents.

This same feeling leads him to sympathize with the suffering of the people and challenge the anesthetized conscience of well-off society that lives as though enclosed in a soap bubble, unable to respond to the cries of those who suffer or cry for the victims of the lack of solidarity of the powerful.

This has been highlighted in the homily delivered by Francis on his first trip outside Rome on July 8, 2013 to the island of Lampedusa, where a large number of undocumented African immigrants come, many of whom die at sea in their fragile rafts or boats instead of reaching their European dream destiny. This homily in the context of a penitential celebration means a whole church government program, which has been compared to John XXIII's inaugural speech at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia.

Indeed, in Lampedusa, Francis doesn't present a strong Church that imposes itself on humankind (like John Paul II) or simply a small token minority in the midst of a secular diaspora (like Benedict XVI), but a Church whose strength comes from the mysterious presence of Christ in the poor, along the line of Matthew 25, a presence that challenges the Church first, but also humankind.17 The poor are a privileged theological place for the Church and the world.

Francis' much applauded message to the massive youth audience at WYD in Rio de Janeiro confirmed this theological and pastoral line: a poor church and for the poor, going out to the peripheries, fighting for a just and solidary world without exclusion, listening to young who dream of a different and alternative world, etc.

In that sense, what matters is not LT but a liberating church and the liberation of the people. LT has fulfilled a prophetic function and at the same time it is opening itself to new horizons now.
It will be the job of the new generation of theologians, especially young, lay, indigenous and Afro-descendent ones, not to repeat what has been said, but open themselves to the newness of the future, trusting in the power of the Spirit of Jesus that is always present in history, although often, like the wind, we don't know where it comes from or where it is going (Jn 3:8).


1. ELLACURIA; SOBRINO, 1990: Mysterium liberationis. Conceptos fundamentales de la teologia de la liberacion, Vol. I y II. The title, Mysterium liberationis, is a Latin American rejoinder to Mysterium salutis published by European theologians after Vatican II. When Mysterium liberationis was published in 1990, it had already been a year since I. Ellacuria had been assassinated. In this book, R. Oliveros' chapter is of particular interest for our subject. (1990, p. 17-30)

2. For example, ARAGON et al. "La teologia de la liberacion, cuarenta anos despues: retos y desafios", Alternativas, Managua, vol. 19, no. 44, July-December 2012; REFLEXIONES. 40 anos de la Teologia de la Liberacion: balances y perspectivas. Vinculum, Conferencia de religiosos de Colombia, Bogota, vol. 60, no. 250, January-March 2013, which brings together contributions from the Latin American Theological Commission of ASETT/ EATWOT.

3. The presentations of this meeting were published by the Instituto Fe y Secularidad under the significant title, Fe cristiana y cambio social en America Latina, 1973. Cf. CODINA, 2013, pp. 26-27.

4. I can't resist quoting an eloquent testimony about this novelty of theology from the south that J. Garcia Roca recounts: "I remember a personal confession the greatest Spanish theologian of the 20th century, Father Alfaro, made to me. Around 1973, he visited Latin America to lecture. On his return, he acknowledged to me that the day the Church looks to the south, neither theology nor morals nor organization would pass the test. 'I recognized that the theology I had done my whole life would be useless in the future'." GARCIA ROCA, 2013, p. 35-44, quote 42-43.

5. Libertatis nuntius: Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" (CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, 1984).

6. Libertatis conscientia: Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, 1986).

7. Ellacuria ironically observed, however, that in Ratzinger's book, Introduction to Christianity, the concept of liberation doesn't appear...

8. COMBLIN et al, 1993 p. 15-16

9. This contribution by Chilean theologian Ronaldo Muñoz (who died in December 2009) was, in my opinion, one of the deepest, most beautiful and most authentic of the meeting -- in the base communities, faced with the basic needs and solidarity of poor people, the Church is a Samaritan Church. In face of the need for affection and celebration, the Church is a home. In face of the search for God and sacrament, the Church is a sanctuary. In face of the longing for meaning and hope, the Church is a missionary. In face of rights denied and the struggle, the Church is prophetic. Such an experiential synthesis cannot be improvised. It corresponds to a theologian deeply rooted in the people, gospel-centered and consistent, who unites in an exemplary way closeness to the poor and theological seriousness.

10. J.L.Segundo ironically asked the room's permission to cite a couple of contributions from Marxism and on the other hand he was very critical towards a theology based on "a escuta do povo" ["listening to the people"].

11. CONGRESO CONTINENTAL DE TEOLOGIA, 2013, Unisinos, Brasil. 50 anos del Vaticano II. Analisis y perspectivas. Two other books were published electronically on the workshops and communiques of the Congress.


13. In it appear in this order: J. Marins, C. de Lora, P. Trigo, Elsa Tamez (the only woman!), J. Sobrino, P. Suess, L. Boff, J. B. Libanio, P. Richard, J. Garcia, V. Codina, J. C. Scannone, Frei Betto, J. Hernandez Pico, C. Mesters, J. O. Beozzo, Eleazar Lopez, F. Chico Whitaker, D. Irarrazaval. In the background appear the figures of G. Gutierrez and S. Torres who for health reasons could not attend the Unisinos Congress. No doubt it is a photo for posterity..


15. CONSELHO EPISCOPAL LATINO-AMERICANO, 2008. Documento de Aparecida no. 12. In reality, the ofical text approved by Rome says "would not withstand", but the text approved by the bishops before the Roman revision was more realistic: "will not withstand."

16. See the dialogue on this subject in the V. Messor and J. Ratzinger interview, Informe sobre la fe, 1985. Cf CODINA, 1994, p. 145-148.

17. See the statements of the Church historian of the Bologna school, Alberto Melloni, in an interview with Vatican Insider published by La Stampa on July 18, 2013 (TORNIELLI, 2013). REFERENCES

ARAGON, R.; PAZ, J. M.; SUSIN, L. C. La teologia de la liberacion, cuarenta anos despues: retos y desafios. Alternativas, Managua, ano 19, n. 44, julio diciembre 2012.

CODINA, V. Creo en el Espiritu Santo. Pneumatologia narrativa. Santander: Sal Terrae, 1994.

CODINA, V. Diario de un teologo del posconcilio. Bogota: Ed San Pablo, Bogota, 2013.

COMBLIN, J.; GONZALEZ FAUS; J. I.; SOBRINO, J. (Ed.). Cambio social y pensamiento cristiano en America Latina. Madrid: Trotta, 1993.

CONGREGACION DE LA DOCTRINA DE LA FE. Instruccion sobre algunos aspectos de la "teologia de la liberacion¨. Libertatis nuntius. Madrid: Paulinas, 1984.

CONGREGACION DE LA DOCTRINA DE LA FE. Instruccion sobre libertad cristiana y liberacion. Libertatis conscientia. Madrid: Paulinas, 1986.

CONGRESO CONTINENTAL DE TEOLOGIA. 50 anos del Vaticano II. Analisis y perspectivas. Bogota: Ed Paulinas, 2013.

CONSELHO EPISCOPAL LATINO-AMERICANO. Documento de Aparecida: texto conclusivo da V Conferencia Gerald o Episcopado latino-americano e do Caribe. Sao Paulo: Paulinas, 2008.

ELLACURIA, I; SOBRINO (Ed.) Mysterium liberationis. Conceptos fundamentales de la Teologia de la Liberacion, Madrid: Trotta, 1990. (Tomo I y Tomo II).

GARCIA ROCA, J. Otro horizonte para las relaciones de la Iglesia con el mundo. Exodo, Madrid, n. 118, p. 42-43, abril 2013.

GONZALEZ FAUS, J. I. Comprender a Karol Wojtyla. Santander: Sal Terrae, 2005.

INSTITUTO FE Y SECULARIDAD. Fe cristiana y cambio social en America Latina. Salamanca: Ed Sigueme, 1973.

JASPERS, K. The Original Goal of History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.

LIBANIO, J. B. "Panorama de la teologia de America Latina en estos ultimos veinte anos" in COMBLIN, J.; GONZALEZ FAUS; J. I.; SOBRINO, J. (Ed.). Cambio social y pensamiento cristiano en America Latina. Madrid: Trotta, 1993. p. 57-78.

MESSORI, V.; Ratzinger, J. Informe sobre la fe. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1985.

OLIVEROS, R. "Historia de la Teologia de La liberacion", in ELLACURIA, I; SOBRINO (Ed.) Mysterium liberationis. Conceptos fundamentales de la Teologia de la Liberacion, Madrid: Trotta, 1990. Vol. I, p. 17-30.

RATZINGER, J. Introduccion al cristianismo. Salamanca: Sigueme, 1982.

REFLEXIONES. 40 anos de la Teologia de la Liberacion: balances y perspectivas, Vinculum, Conferencia de religiosos de Colombia, Bogota, ano 60, n. 250,enero-marzo 2013.

SEGUNDO, J. L. La Teologia de la Liberacion. Respuesta al Cardenal Ratzinger. Madrid: Ediciones Cristiandad, 1985.

SUSIN, L. C. Y el mar se abrio, Treinta anos de Teologia en America Latina. Santander: Sal Terrae, 2001.

TORNIELLI, Andrea. Lampedusa: homilia programatica de un Pontificado. Entrevista con Alberto Melloni. Vatican Insider. La 18 de julio de 2013. Available in English at Accessed July 19, 2013.

Victor Codina, SJ has a PhD in Theology from the Gregorian University (Rome) and degrees in Philosophy and Letters from the University of Barcelona and in Theology from the University of Innsbruck. He is an emeritus professor at the School of Theology of the Bolivian Catholic University in Cochabamba. He is from Bolivia.

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