Bolivia – Market theology

The market has a bit of everything – fruit and vegetables and then there are rice, baby food, galoshes, vermicelli and pumpkins as well as all sorts of meat and fish.

One characteristic of the market is the great number of pedlars selling their sandwiches, ready meals, ice cream and an amount of beverages such as: fruit juice, tea, coffee, tisane and the like. Then there are the biological products and natural medicines, coca leaves, serpent fat for tuberculosis and taraxacum for cancer. There is also liquor like whiskey and rum.  But the market is not just about food and drink. Shoes are sold there and things for the house such as curtains, sheets and towels. Flowers, too, of all sorts, perfume and cosmetics, electrical goods, records, CDs, DVDs, furniture and all things connected with the world of information and computers.
For most of the men and women vendors, the market is not just a place for business affairs but a sort of home: the whole day is spent there, people have breakfast and lunch there and have tea at 5pm as the English do. The market follows the celebrations through the year: at Carnival masks and bottles of water are on sale and for the feast of St John there are fireworks; on All Saints flowers for the cemetery and, at Christmas, panettone and shepherds for the crib.
bol2The market is a world in miniature, not just for the infinity of goods but for the numbers of people who go there: country people selling tomatoes and greens to the unloaders, an institution by itself. We must not forget the indigenous people, people from the outskirts who come and go. Then there are the boys and girls who help their parents to carry the goods and to sell them. Women breast-feeding their babies, street children looking for something to steal, policemen with wooden clubs and guards with their whistles trying to create order among the chaos of cars, lorries and minibuses.
It is at the market where the economic and social problems of a country are to be seen. The country people sell their products at below-cost prices, the women try to earn a little money, and the smugglers lay out their suspect goods. It is an undergrowth that is also an expression of poverty, an underground economy and the search for a way to survive.
Melting Pot
The market is a ‘melting pot’ of races, cultures, languages, traditions and religious rites. The smell of the food is mingled with that of the latest generation of computers, Morenada rock music, there are poultry women dressed in the jeans of the youths, and products from the local fields as well as those imported from Miami. At the market we find a movement of solidarity, of ‘ayni’, or care for the children and the elderly. It is a school of humanism, of wisdom, of life and the enjoyment of the little one has. Many have little interest in politics even though they go to the meetings, are members of a union and demonstrate in defence of jobs. They follow the news on the radio and TV. They read the tabloid and sensationalist news. They voted for President Evo Morales because he is one of them, of their race and culture. They have placed their trust in him in the hope that he will improve their living conditions, get rid of corruption and do away with the need to emigrate from the countryside to the city or from Bolivia to other countries. Politics is now becoming of interest.
A Religious Universe
The market reveals a special religious universe. Passing by the stalls and the shops on a Sunday, one may well ask what importance the Lord’s Day, the Eucharist or the liturgical cycle can have for these people – or what it means to be a Christian. However, these people are religious, with the faith of the simple people. The vast majority are Catholic, have been baptised and made their Holy Communion. bol3Some were married in church. They have an image of Our Lady in their pockets and go to Urkupiña with the sacred image of the cross. They take part in the Good Friday procession and go to the cemetery to pray for their dead. But this world is joined to the traditional and ancestral religious rites in a healthy and sincere syncretism.
As a symbol of this deeper, pluralist and emergent Bolivia, what has the market got to say to the Church and theology? Faced with the reality of the market, many arguments and theoretical discourses fail, together with many canonical, liturgical and moral norms, and much cold, abstract speculation. What message has the Church, as a community, to offer this world? What message can the Church give these people? It is from the starting point of the market that there must be a re-thinking of the faith, the creed, theology, morals, spirituality, pastoral, evangelisation, catechesis and the introduction to the Bible. But to do this, the Church must begin to dialogue with the people of the market. It must start from the real life of the people, their concerns, from their dreams and the illusions of the Bolivia of today.

As Church, we must ask what we can learn from the people of the market. What do the people of the market mean for the Church? How can this world be evangelised? How can we discern the signs of the times that Bolivia is living through today? It is only after these questions have been answered that one may proclaim that Jesus Christ comes to give meaning to these emarginated people and offer them a “kingdom” as an alternative to a situation of exclusion. The kingdom is the good news that the Lord is coming to give us a worthy and human life. The Lord came to make us more human, to make us happy, not only in the next life but also in this life. Starting from the market.
Víctor Codina


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