PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru – Pope Francis in Latin America is not only a pontiff but also a Jesuit of the kind that committed themselves to defending the native peoples when colonization was fully underway.
Other pontiffs had already begged pardon for the “sins” of the church during the conquest and colonization of Latin America, but Francis, the first Latin American pope, has become the Vatican’s spokesman, above all on his trips to Latin America, in defense of indigenous peoples and of righting the wrongs done to them.
On Friday Francis echoed all the threats targeting native communities and strongly denounced the exploitation of their lands and the contamination of their environments.
The majority of Jesuits, from their arrival in 1549 to the coast of Brazil to their subsequent missions to Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Mexico and Central America, always vowed their commitment to the oppressed, who in the New World were Indians.
Like a good Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio, on his first papal trip to Latin America in 2015, with visits to Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, made it clear that one priority of his pontificate is the defense of native communities.
Upon witnessing the popular indigenous movements in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, the Argentine pope “humbly begged pardon...not only for the offenses of the church itself, but for the crimes perpetrated against the natives during the so-called conquest of the Americas.
In his travels he has always visited and paid homage to the priests, Jesuits or not, who protected the Indians even with their own lives, like Fray Bartolome de las Casas.
In Paraguay, where he took a trip that was often a tribute to the Guarani culture, Francis praised the Jesuits’ Guarani missions, which he considered one of the “most interesting evangelization and social organization experiences in history.”
But it was in Chiapas, on his trip to Mexico in 2015, where Francis heartily asked for pardon in the name of all who had “mistreated and excluded” those indigenous peoples.
He condemned how, “in such a systematic and structural way, its people had been alienated and excluded from society.”
And now, Pope Francis wishes to organize a Synod of the Amazon, where 2,779,478 aborigines live belonging to 390 indigenous cultures, and where 137 peoples have “never been contacted.”