Friday, December 11, 2015

Margot Bremer: "Laudato Si' is a call to urgently change a world that is leading us to the abyss"

by Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 9, 2015

In religious life, we find people who want to be present among the outcasts, among those who society wants to put out of the system. Their presence in these spheres is not always understood, either within or outside the Church, even in religious life itself.

Margot Bremer is a woman religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and for over twenty years she has accompanied and, together with some anthropologists, studied the life of Paraguayan indigenous people and peasants. Born in Germany, she spent over ten years in Spain and during that time befriended Dolores Alexandre, one of the most recognized Spanish Bible scholars in recent decades who also belongs to the same congregation. Besides her work with indigenous people, she is also involved in the formation of men and women religious and seminarians.

In this interview, conducted during the Second Continental Congress of Theology which took place some weeks ago in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, she talks about the life of the Paraguayan indigenous peoples and their relationship with nature, showing how she learns from them day to day.

What can we learn from the indigenous peoples?

Indigenous peoples show us the richness of the excluded, since they can't be boxed into the category of poor but as excluded people, yes. It's necessary to establish a relationship of reciprocity in diversity with them. The indigenous are different, but that doesn't mean they're inferior and they have many things that we have lost or never had.

Why are they viewed by many as second-class people, as uncivilized?

That's the result of colonialism, which has sometimes led to the colonized wanting to be like their colonizers, and that is the most tragic.

How does the Catholic Church relate to indigenous peoples today?

Paraguay is divided into two diametrically opposed regions -- the Chaco, where 65% of the population live, most belonging to indigenous peoples of the Chaco, and the other region, which is very fertile and wooded, where the Guarani live, subdivided into five groups. These Guarani are not the ones who were colonized five hundred years ago, but those who hid in the forests, which today have been cut down. These Guarani are not Catholics; they have their culture and religion, and the Church works with them by defending their human rights and their advancement.

As a theological adviser to the Coordinación Nacional de Pastoral Indígena ["national coordinating group on indigenous ministry"] that is part of the Paraguayan Bishops' Conference, we encourage inter-religious and intercultural dialogue to reinforce their culture and religion based on reciprocity in diversity, which is the foundation of their coexistence.

That is the way, accompanying rather than wanting to convert, which was the Church's attitude for a long time and is still present in the minds of some. Discovering that by accompanying one can teach and learn...

Accompanying and making alliances against the common enemy, which is neoliberalism.

Which is one aspect that Pope Francis criticized in his address to the popular movements during his trip to Bolivia last July, calling capitalism "the dung of the devil."

This shows that Pope Francis is also in this line.

And how's the situation in other regions of the country?

In the western region, in the Chaco, which is very inhospitable -- it's savannah -- live a great variety of indigenous peoples. In the last 90 years three different Christian groups have been present, Mennonites, Anglicans and Catholics, through the Oblates. In those days, there was a method of evangelization that we totally reject today which was to take the children away from the families to put them in boarding schools and impose a completely western education and religion on them. This has made them helpless today as they have lost much of their identity, breaking their organizational structure, and a parish structure has been imposed on them.

About 50 years ago, an Oblate father recorded the last indigenous myths, which we missionaries are now teaching them again, which are a novelty for them. The intention is that the Gospel be inculturated in the religious forms developed by their ancestors.

The indigenous have a different relationship with the environment, with Mother Earth. What do the indigenous people teach Western cultures about the ecological dimension?

They don't conceive of themselves as owners of the Earth, or as the center of it, but as part of the Earth and nature, having a living relationship with all living beings on Earth, because each of the beings has a protective spirit with which it communicates. They say that the trees can talk, they listen, they have found the wisdom in the relationship between the variety of plants and animals, creating a balance between flora and fauna. They have discovered this as the relationship of God's wisdom in creation, wanting to get into the rhythm and obedience to these laws of life that they have found to be divine.

In that sense, how will the encyclical "Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home" help?

The pope doesn't directly say this is the indigenous worldview, but it is. The encyclical is an urgent call to change a world that is leading us to the abyss. We have to change the direction of wanting infinite progress, that we can move forward continually, and that everything past is outdated. We live in a time when technology dominates and everything becomes passé in a very short time, so we get into a need to consume. It's in this sense that the past is devalued, what matters is the present and infinite expectation is created about the future at the technological level, which is deceptive.

Contrary to this, the indigenous return to the roots. They are also facing a changing situation, similar to the change of era Western culture is experiencing, caused by neoliberalism, with its values and anti-values. They feel the need to return to their foundational plan, seeking direction there for modern times, looking for the signs of the times that can be assumed from this foundational plan, which is in their myths, to find a way forward, since they are itinerant, always on a journey in search of the Land Without Evil, experiencing this journey as a test to overcome difficulties and grow to full maturity with Mother Earth. When we say that we have to take care of nature, we have to understand that Mother Earth takes care of us and we have to enter into a reciprocal relationship with her.

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