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Pope Asks Pardon for Church’s ‘Crimes’ Against Indigenous

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Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Christ the Redeemer square in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. After the Mass, Francis' main event of the day is a keynote speech to a summit of grass-roots groups whose advocacy for the poor and marginalized has been championed by history's first Latin American pope. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Christ the Redeemer square in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. After the Mass, Francis’ main event of the day is a keynote speech to a summit of grass-roots groups whose advocacy for the poor and marginalized has been championed by history’s first Latin American pope. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
FRANK BAJAK, Associated Press

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (AP) — Pope Francis apologized Thursday for the sins, offenses and crimes committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas, delivering a powerful mea culpa on the part of the church in the climactic highlight of his South American pilgrimage.

History’s first Latin American pope “humbly” begged forgiveness during an encounter in Bolivia with indigenous groups and other activists and in the presence of Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.

Francis noted that Latin American church leaders in the past had acknowledged that “grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.” St. John Paul II, for his part, apologized to the continent’s indigenous for the “pain and suffering” caused during the 500 years of the church’s presence in the Americas during a 1992 visit to the Dominican Republic.

But Francis went farther, and said he was doing so with “regret.”

“I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was St. John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” he said to applause from the crowd.

Then deviating from his prepared script, he added: “I also want for us to remember the thousands and thousands of priests who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross. There was sin, and it was plentiful. But we never apologized, so I now ask for forgiveness. But where there was sin, and there was plenty of sin, there was also an abundant grace increased by the men who defended indigenous peoples.”

Francis’ apology was met with wild applause from the indigenous and other grass-roots groups gathered for a world summit of popular movements whose fight against injustice and social inequality has been championed by the pope.

“We accept the apologies. What more can we expect from a man like Pope Francis?” said Adolfo Chavez, a leader of a lowlands indigenous group. “It’s time to turn the page and pitch in to start anew. We indigenous were never lesser beings.”

The apology was significant given the controversy that has erupted in the United States over Francis’ planned canonization of the 18th century Spanish priest Junipero Serra, who set up missions across California. Native Americans contend Serra brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity, wiping out villages in the process, and have opposed his canonization. The Vatican insists Serra defended natives from colonial abuses.

Francis’ apology was also significant given the controversy that blew up the last time a pope visited the continent. Benedict XVI drew heated criticism when, during a 2007 visit to Brazil, he defended the church’s campaign to Christianize indigenous peoples. He said the Indians of Latin America had been “silently longing” to become Christians when Spanish and Portuguese conquerors violently took over their lands.

“In effect, 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,” Benedict told the continent’s bishops.

Amid an outcry from indigenous groups, Benedict subsequently acknowledged that “shadows accompanied the work of evangelizing” the continent and said European colonizers inflicted “sufferings and injustices” on indigenous populations. He didn’t apologize, however.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that Francis wrote the speech on his own and that the apology for the sins, offenses and crimes of the church was a “particularly important declaration.”

Church officials have long insisted Catholic missionaries protected indigenous peoples from the abuses of military colonizers and were often punished by European colonial powers as a result. Francis’ own Jesuit order developed missions across the continent, educating the indigenous and turning their communities into organized Christian-Indian societies. The Jesuits were expelled in the 17th century.

Mexican Bishop Raul Vera, who attended the summit where Francis made the apology, said the church was essentially a passive participant in allowing natives to become enslaved under the Spanish “encomienda” system, by which the Spanish king granted land in conquered territories to those who settled there. Indians were allowed to live on the haciendas as long as they worked them.

“It’s evident that the church did not defend against it with all its efforts. It allowed it to be imposed,” Vera told The Associated Press earlier Thursday.

He acknowledged that John Paul had previously asked forgiveness for the church’s sins against indigenous. But he said Francis’ apology was particularly poignant given the setting.

Campesino leader Amandina Quispe, of Anta, Peru, who attended the grass-roots summit, said the church still holds lands it should give back to Andean natives. The former seat of the Inca empire, conquered by Spaniards in the 16th century, is an example.

“The church stole our land and tore down our temples in Cuzco and then it built its own churches — and now it charges admission to visit them,” she said.

Francis’ apology was not the first. After his 1992 apology, John Paul II issued a sweeping but vague apology for the Catholic Church’s sins of the past during the church’s 2000 Jubilee. A year later, he apologized specifically for missionary abuses against aborigines in Oceania. He did so in the first ever papal email.

During the speech, the longest and most important of Francis’ week-long, three-nation South American trip, the pope touched on some of the key priorities of his pontificate: the need to change an unjust global economic system that excludes the poor and replace it with a “communitarian economy” involving the “fitting distribution” of the Earth’s resources.

“Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the Earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It’s a moral obligation,” he said.

He ended the speech with a fierce condemnation of the world’s governments for what he called “cowardice” in defending the Earth. Echoing his environmental encyclical of last month, the pope said the Earth “is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity” while “one international summit after another takes place without any significant result.”

He urged the activists present to “keep up your struggle.”

It was a message he articulated earlier in the day when he denounced the “throwaway” culture of today’s society that discards anyone who is unproductive. He made the comments as he celebrated his first public Mass in Bolivia, South America’s poorest country.

The government declared a national holiday so workers and students could attend the Mass, which featured prayers in Guarani and Aimara, two of Bolivia’s indigenous languages, and an altar carved from wood by artisans of the Chiquitano people.

In a blending of the native and new, the famously unpretentious pope changed into his vestments for the Mass in a nearby Burger King.

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Associated Press writers Paola Flores, Jacobo Garcia and Carlos Valdez contributed to this report.

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Nicole Winfield on Twitter: at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Events

Moving from Pain, Trauma and Crisis Is Never Easy but Is Possible.

For more information, call 510 688-7437.

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Depiction of a woman with a distorted face; Photo courtesy of Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash

Join Pastor Phyllis Scott in her 5th annual yoke breaking, life changing conference,”

“Moving from Pain to Purpose; “The Journey from Violence to Victory.”

The conference will be held Sept. 23-25 on Zoom.

Guest Speakers:

  • Day 1, “Still I Rise”

Lisa Carlisle, ACBH Child and Youth Systems of Care Director

Tianna Hicks, Da Bigger Picture Foundation and the mother of Pittsburgh Steeler Najee Harris

  • Day 2, “My Secret”

Carolyn Russell, executive director, A Safe Place

Rev. Michele Raiford, E. V. E. International Ministries LLC, CEO

  • Day 3, “I am More than a Conqueror

Annabella Guerrero, communications director, Love Never Fails

Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland Police Department

Zoom Meeting ID 853 2091 1800 No password required

Please register at https://paintopurposeviolencetovictory.eventbrite.com

For more information, call 510 688-7437.

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Activism

Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s Statement on Afghanistan Crisis

The people of Afghanistan are facing a terrible tragedy. It is crucial that we ensure the safe evacuation of Americans and allies, including our Afghan allies. That must be our top priority. This is an untenable and dire situation, and we have a moral obligation to protect Afghans seeking refuge.

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Apache attack helicopter in approach, Sep 2020, Photo courtesy of Andre Klimke via Unsplash

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) released the following statement on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan on August 16:

“The people of Afghanistan are facing a terrible tragedy. It is crucial that we ensure the safe evacuation of Americans and allies, including our Afghan allies. That must be our top priority. This is an untenable and dire situation, and we have a moral obligation to protect Afghans seeking refuge.

“We should expedite Special Immigrant Visas and support all in Afghanistan —U.S. Citizens, women, journalists, civil servants and activists, and allies of U.S. troops—who need safe passage. This includes working with surrounding countries to encourage the welcoming of Afghan refugees across their borders.

“As Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, I stand ready and committed to use my position to provide any and all support and investment in humanitarian relief and ensure the safe resettlement of the Afghan people.

“We must also remain intensely focused on investing in the safety and security of Afghan women and girls. An entire generation of Afghan women and girls have now seen the potential for a life of freedom and opportunity. The international community must continue to prioritize their rights and protection.

“Our courageous men and women in the armed services did exactly what they were asked to do. I pray for their return and the return of those still there defending the lives of Americans and Afghans on the ground in Kabul. We must get clear answers for how we got here and how to avoid repeating our mistakes.

“President Biden correctly laid out (Monday) what has been clear for 20 years: there has never, and will never be, a U.S. military solution in Afghanistan.”

  U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee’s press office is the source of this report.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Commentary

Community Responds to OPD Chief’s Call for Help in Stopping Violence

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.    

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stop gun violence sign photo courtesy Chip Vincent via Unsplash

Seventy-five.

That’s the number of homicides that have occurred so far this year here in Oakland.  There have also been at least 300 acts of violence injuries perpetrated against the citizens of Oakland, many of them gun related.

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.

Those 75 families who lost loved ones to senseless acts of reckless violence are families from our communities. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends.

The word of God reminds us to “Love our Neighbor as we love ourselves.” The Bible compels us to want the best and do the best for one another.

What would you want if one of your family members were one of those 75 who had been shot and killed in the streets of Oakland? What would you want?

The answer is simple.

You would want someone to care!  To shout with outrage and do something to end this cycle of violence!

On July 27, a group of community activists met with Armstrong to discuss how they could come together organizing in a city-wide community coalition to bring holistic ideas to create a wrap-around approach to combating violence. Those ideas include a) mental wellness, b) community chaplaincy, c) ask the formerly incarcerated to mentor and encourage youth in crisis, d) job development, e) entrepreneurship opportunities, and – last but not least — address our ever-growing homeless issues.

For more information on how you can be a good neighbor, please call 510-688-7437

All for the Peace — “Shalom” — of our Great City.

Pastor Scott is the president of Pastors of Oakland and leader of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries.

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