Since the 1960s, the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) has been promoting a new pastoral path alongside the indigenous peoples, through the Missions Department (DEMIS) first, and then, through the Secretariat of the Indigenous Pastoral Ministry (SEPAI).
Intercultural and interreligious dialogue has been carried out throughout the Latin American continent: in Melgar (Colombia), Xicotepec (Mexico), Caracas (Venezuela), Iquitos (Peru), Manaus (Brazil), Ambato (Colombia) and other places. The purpose of the meetings and dialogue was the dynamization of the ecclesial life and the enhancement of the incarnation and inculturation of the Gospel, in order to pave the way to the establishment of indigenous Churches with their own language, their inculturated liturgy, their own ministries, autochthonous priesthood, theology, spirituality and bishops.
Firstly, Christian priests and pastors focused on the social problem of poverty and its causes, which affect Latin America (Medellín 1968 and Puebla 1979). Later, Christian Churches promoted a specific and appropriate action following the acknowledgement of the cultural diversity of aboriginal groups (Santo Domingo 1992). From that date on, the inculturation of the Gospel, of the Church, of theology, of formation has become a priority.
The Church has worked very much on the inculturation process, as some documents show: Redemptor Hominis (1978), Cathequesi Tradendae (1979), Slavorum Apostoli (1983), Redemptoris Missio (1992), Evangelii Gaudium (2013); the Pope’s speeches on the occasion of His apostolic journeys. Incultured formation is promoted despite many difficulties. CELAM has organized meetings and initiatives aimed at the exchange of experiences and ideas. However, there is still a long way to go.
Indigenous identity and Church membership
Dialogue between the Church and the indigenous people has not always been characterized by respect. For centuries, Aboriginal Peoples, who were interested in becoming members of the Christian Churches, were supposed to renounce their traditions and deny their indigenous identity and accept those which were proposed by the Churches.
Then the Latin American Church gradually focused on the reconciliation with the native peoples of America. Reconciliation, which was initially only a prophecy by some members of the Church, became later an institutional reality. The longed for prophecy predicted during the event in Guadalupe came true at least at a structural level.
Bishop Juan de Zumarraga, first bishop of Mexico (1468 – June 3, 1548) asked for forgiveness and committed himself to healing the wounds suffered by native peoples in the past. He also promoted the construction of the Teocatzin (‘indigenous temple’), symbol of the Xochitlalpan, ‘the land of truth’, that is, the land of the great indigenous utopias. A land that, God, Father and Mother of all peoples, sowed, made germinate and Inizio moduloturned into a leafy tree where all the birds of the sky can make their nests. (E.L.H.)