Pope Francis apologized Thursday for the sins and “offenses” committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.
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 “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 on the continent during a 1992 visit to the Dominican Republic.
But Francis went farther.
“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 and cheers from the crowd.
Earlier in the day, Francis denounced the “throwaway” culture of today’s society that discards anyone who is unproductive as he celebrated his first public Mass in Bolivia.
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.
Speaking to the crowd in South America’s poorest country, Francis decried the prevailing mentality of the world economy where so many people are “discarded” today — the poor, the elderly, those who are unproductive.
“It is a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable,” he said. “This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.”
The day, however, threatened to be overshadowed by President Evo Morales’ controversial gift to Francis upon his arrival: a crucifix carved into a hammer and sickle.
Both the Vatican and the Bolivian government insisted Morales wasn’t making a heretical or political statement with the gift. They said the cross, dubbed the “Communist crucifix,” had originally been designed by a Jesuit activist, the Rev. Luis Espinal, who was assassinated in 1980 by suspected paramilitaries during the months that preceded a violent military coup in Bolivia. On Wednesday, Francis, a fellow Jesuit, prayed at the site where Espinal’s body was dumped.
“You can dispute the significance and use of the symbol now, but the origin is from Espinal and the sense of it was about an open dialogue, not about a specific ideology,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The Bolivian government insisted the gift wasn’t a political maneuver of any sort, but was a profound symbol that Morales thought the “pope of the poor” would appreciate.
“That was the intention of this gift, and it was not any sort of maneuver … It was really from great affection, a work designed by the very hands of Luis Espinal,” Communications Minister Marianela Paco told Patria Nueva radio.
SOURCE: The Associated Press