The Indios peoples of Latin America have finally irrupted into history. They are present as officially recognized indigenous communities in society and in Churches.
They bring their contribution, the flowers of Tepeyac, which were cultivated in the darkness of the night, in the winter ice, between stones and thorns. The aboriginal communities of Latin America are willing to offer their flowers to those who are ready to open their hearts and wish to receive them.
The current burst of Indio spirituality and theologies, with their wide range of nuances, is a call to life for all, but especially for the Churches, which will find, in the indigenous search for God, reasons to rejuvenate themselves and to keep on working for the Kingdom of God, which our peoples also deeply yearn for through their myths and utopias. Churches and Indios peoples can join forces and spiritual energies, which come from ancient times, to reinvigorate life and find human and Christian solutions to the crisis that is crushing the world.
Today the indigenous populations of America are bracing their feet against the ground to claim those rights that, for centuries, the dominant society has denied them. They, therefore, call on governments and Churches to recognize their autonomy, and to be considered as free and adult peoples.
It can’t be denied that some aboriginal groups think that the Christian Churches should take a step back and give up their task of evangelization and leave the indigenous communities in peace so that they can live their religious options freely. The indigenous people who think this way are those who cannot forget the undeniable sad events of the past, when evangelization was carried out with inadequate methods which contradicted the teachings of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by uniting the mission of proclaiming the Gospel with the mundane task of establishing European Christendom as an economic, political and cultural structure. In the past, missionaries often confused the cross with the sword, evangelization with conquest, and God with gold. Hence came the abuses of human dignity. The Catholic Church today feels sorry about that and has asked for forgiveness for the abuses it committed against the indigenous peoples of Latin America.
Pope Francis, in Bolivia in 2015 apologized 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. He said: “I would 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”. Nowadays, the Catholic Church is committed to respecting indigenous peoples’ rights and to carrying out its mission of authentic evangelization. As the holy missionaries and prophets of the first evangelization had already done, the Church today sees the natives as the opportunity of implementing the real spirit of evangelization which may involve the entire society. The Indians, who are rich in spirituality are the “light of the world”, and the “salt of the earth”; Pope John Paul II said in Yucatan, Mexico, in 1993. Indigenous peoples are the new evangelizers of the Latin American continent. The Church can establish a strategic alliance with aboriginal communities to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
Today, non-indigenous members of the Church can see that we, the indigenous people, are not a problem but a resource as far as the subjects regarding God are concerned. Our experience of God can be an incentive and an example to follow for the other members of the Church. That is the meaning of the canonization of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoátzin. We, the indigenous people, can also teach others the path that takes to God.
Now, the representatives of the Churches have realized that they can evangelize indigenous people and that at the same time they can be evangelized by them, missionaries and pastors bring their spirituality to aboriginal communities and receive in turn the spiritual gifts that God gave to these peoples. The meeting with the indigenous peoples becomes an exchange, a mutual enrichment. There is not anymore just a depositary and a beneficiary. Both parts can give and receive reciprocally. Now the Church transmits the revealed Word not as if it were its owner, but as a faithful servitor of God, being aware at the same time that God has revealed His presence also to others who belong to different cultural realities. The evangelization of the Church does not deny or destroy, but it recognizes, welcomes and serves. This approach has been defined ‘mission as inculturation’, that is, the preaching of the Gospel to peoples and cultures where it is not known, by presenting it in a way which respects the mentality, customs, and traditions of the people to whom it is brought.
Thanks to evangelization people are freed from their sins. Through evangelization God consolidates the deepest identity of peoples. Missionaries of the present century and the millennium must approach the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the other peoples of the world in a humble attitude and in a respectful and fraternal dialogue, in order to bear witness to the Gospel with their life. Missionaries must be able to recognize God in all His forms and all human realities in order that all of us can achieve the human and divine fulfilment in Christ.
Father Eleazar López Hernández