Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. 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. The bicentennial of Latin America’s cry for independence commemorates a cry which arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation of being subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.

‘What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun’ (Eccles 1:9). Those who lived the years previous to the commemoration of the 5th Centenary of the Discovery of America (1992) were perhaps not surprised with the words that Francis pronounced a few days ago in Ecuador and Bolivia. At that time, a so-called ‘indigenous movement’, one that opposed the evangelization and civilizing efforts of Spain and Portugal in the American continent ever since the year 1492, took shape with deceitful accusations against the Church of massacres and ambitious conquests. For several months, the centenary commemorations were disturbed by an uproar promoted by some mysterious indigenous protestors… mysterious above all due to the pale color of their skin that revealed to any observer that their origins among the much touted ‘native peoples’ were more than dubious…

This way of deforming the truth about the evangelization of America, at that time, seemed to be a preparation for something that increasing appears to be taking on voluminous proportions in the ‘Continent of Hope’: a curious adaptation of the same old communist jargon to the socio-economic conditions of Latin-America.

We wouldn’t wish to judge the intention of Francis’ statements – for perhaps he lacks a clear understanding of the History of America during the past 500 years, and has also perhaps not taken sufficient care to be well informed about the angelic customs (sic!) of the indigenous peoples priory to the discovery, thus also oblivious of their history in the preceeding centuries. Perhaps he also ignores the extensive labor that was undertaken by countless missionaries, often at the price of their own blood, especially Franciscans and Jesuits, his brethren in habit, in the vast American territory.

We merely wish to explain to Catholic brothers and sisters the benefits of this immense evangelizing effort just as it was praised throughout the centuries by the most authoritative voices of the Church.

Moreover, we would like to call to mind that, although the Church is formed – in its visible dimension – by members who can err, the Church Herself is holy and the Spotless Bride of Christ. So, just as one can’t attribute the errors of an individual to the institution to which he belongs, even less so can this be done regarding an Institution that is divine, as is the Holy Catholic Church.

Francis

Here I wish to bring up an important issue. Some may rightly say, ‘When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church’. I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM, the Council of Latin American Bishops, has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church – I repeat what he said – ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters’ (John Paul II. Bull Incarnationis Mysterium, November 30, 1998). I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint 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. Together with this request for forgiveness and in order to be just, I also would like us to remember the thousands of priests and bishops who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the Cross. There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for this, we ask forgiveness, I ask forgiveness. But here also, where there was sin, great sin, grace abounded through the men and women who defended the rights of indigenous peoples. (Address, Participation at the Second Meeting of Popular Movements, Expo Feria, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015)

I think of those hushed words of Jesus during the Last Supper as more of a shout, a cry rising up from this Mass which we are celebrating in Bicentennial Park. Let us imagine this together. The bicentennial which this Park commemorates was that of Latin America’s cry for independence. It was a cry which arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation, of being ‘subject to the passing whims of the powers that be’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 213). […] There was no shortage of conviction or strength in that cry for freedom which arose a little more than two hundred years ago. But history tells us that it only made headway once personal differences were set aside, together with the desire for power and the inability to appreciate other movements of liberation which were different yet not thereby opposed. (Homily, Holy Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples, Bicentennial Park, Quito Ecuador, July 7, 2015)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of Contents

I – Recognition by the Chair of St. Peter of the epic task of the evangelization of the Americas
II – Praises lavished by the Popes on the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal for the evangelization of America
III – The purpose of the evangelization in America: to bring divine life to the pagans and treat them as children of God
IV – The Popes were not silent about injustices. Condemnation under pain of excommunication to those who enslaved the peoples of the Americas
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I – Recognition by the Chair of St. Peter of the epic task of the evangelization of the Americas

Alexander VI
– May the name of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, be introduced into those countries and islands

Adrian VI
– We order them to undertake such journeys and works

Leo XIII
– Hundreds of thousands were reborn to eternal life, since Columbus willed intensely to propagate the Gospel to new lands
– The principles of the Catholic religion were carried by the ships of Columbus

Pius XII
– Transformed from idolatrous peoples into devout children of the Spouse of Christ

John Paul II
– Overall positive evaluation of the labor of the first evangelizers – and a sentiment of vivid gratitude to the Lord
– Extending his arms of mercy and love, Christ embraces the New World in its entirety ever since the 12th of October 1492
– Five centuries ago, all of the inhabitants of these lands were called to be part of the Church
– The faith became a constitutive factor of the being and identity of the Americas – fruit of the blood of the martyrs
– America, open the doors wide to Christ! Let the seed planted five centuries ago give fruit in all the areas of your life
– In the baptismal waters you were born to a new life in the Mystical Body of Christ, common home to all who invoke God as Father
– How can we fail to give thanks for the seed planted by so many and such courageous missionaries!
– Through faith in Christ, God renewed his alliance with Latin America

Benedict XVI
– The priceless treasure of Latin America is faith in God – not a political ideology

CELAM
– The Glory of the Church consists in having undertaken the work of civilization so that the indigenous people were incorporated into the bosom of true civilization
– Faith in God who is Love and the Catholic tradition are the greatest wealth of America

Pius XII
– Universities inspired by the Church flourished in America – fruit of missionary work aided by the Catholic spirit of the legislation of the monarchs

II – Praises lavished by the Popes on the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal for the evangelization of America

Pius IX
– Spain was great because it founded its grandeur in propagating the Christian religion

Pius X
– Your nations have remained faithful to their faith and traditions

Pius XII
– Portugal: God used you as a precious instrument for admirable accomplishments

John Paul II
– Loving your past and purifying it, you will be faithful to yourselves
– Thank you Spain for your fidelity to the Gospel and to the Spouse of Christ! – due to your incomparable evangelizing activity the most numerous portion of the Church of Christ today prays to God in Spanish.

III – The purpose of the evangelization in America: to bring divine life to the pagans and treat them as children of God

Pius V
– Be attentive to redirect this people to pacific customs and civilized ways of life
– By the propagation of religion, your kingdom shall also be consolidated and augmented – and will be rewarded in this life and the next

John Paul II
– Men in whom pulsates concern for the weak, for the defenseless native
– Apostles that put themselves side by side with the indigenous populations – he who evangelizes also civilizes

IV – The Popes were not silent about injustices. Condemnation under pain of excommunication to those who enslaved the peoples of the Americas

Paul III
– Prohibition to rob or enslave the indigenous peoples

Urban VIII
– The defense of the Indians

Benedict XIV
– Efficacious defense of the Indians – we vigorously prohibit that they be deprived of liberty in any way
– Profound sorrow caused by those who still hinder the indigenous from embracing the faith by inhuman treatment – even after grave punishments and ecclesiastical censures
– Chastisement and grave punishments for those who behave toward the Indians in a manner contrary to Christian meekness and charity
– Excommunication latæ sententiæ for those who mistreat the Indians

John Paul II
– The Catholic Church: moved by the fidelity to the Spirit of Christ, an untiring defender of the Indians and protector of the values of their cultures

I – Recognition by the Chair of St. Peter of the epic task of the evangelization of the Americas

Alexander VI

  • May the name of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, be introduced into those countries and islands

Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this certainly is the most elevated, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the same faith. […] Hence, heartily commending in the Lord this your holy and praiseworthy purpose, and desirous that it be duly accomplished, and that the name of our Savior be carried into those regions, we exhort you very earnestly in the Lord and by your reception of holy baptism, whereby you are bound to our apostolic commands, and by the bowels of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, enjoy strictly, that inasmuch as with eager zeal for the true faith you design to equip and despatch this expedition, you purpose also, as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout hope and trust in your hearts that Almighty God will further your undertakings. And, in order that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed with benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of anyone else in your regard, but out of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages. (Alexander VI. Bull Inter Caetera, May 4, 1493)

Adrian VI

  • We order them to undertake such journeys and works

You made manifest to us your ardent desire to enhance the Christian Religion and to promote the conversion of the unbelievers, principally those who, having Christ as a guide, are subject to your power in the regions of the Indies. And so that in such a holy work the merit of obedience may not be absent, we ordain all of those who have been nominated, to undertake, following the example of the disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ, such journeys and works, in this we firmly hope that in the same way they imitated them in their works, in a similar way they associate with them in rewards. And to the above-mentioned friars, we grant our Apostolic blessing with all our heart. (Adrian VI. Exponi nobis fecisti, May 10, 1522)

Leo XIII

  • Hundreds of thousands were reborn to eternal life, since Columbus willed intensely to propagate the Gospel to new lands

From the midst of the unexplored ocean, thanks to him [Christopher Columbus], arose a new world: hundreds of thousands of creatures, who were forgotten and in darkness have been reintroduced into the human family, from barbarism they were led to meekness and civilization: and, what is more important, from lost that thery were, they have been reborn to eternal life through the communication of the benefits that Jesus Christ brought forth. […] In effect, it is clear that he understood and willed this intensely: to open the way of the Gospel to new lands and new seas. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Quarto Abeunte Saeculo, June 16, 1892)

  • The principles of the Catholic religion were carried by the ships of Columbus

Keeping this thought constantly in view, his first solicitude, wherever he disembarked, was to plant upon the shore the sacred emblem of the cross. Wherefore, like as the Ark of Noah, surmounting the overflowing waters, bore the seed of Israel together with the remnants of the human race, even thus did the barks launched by Columbus upon the ocean carry into regions beyond the seas as well the germs of mighty States as the principles of the Catholic religion. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Longinqua Oceani, On Catholicism in the United States, January 6, 1895)

Pius XII

  • Transformed from idolatrous peoples into devout children of the Spouse of Christ

The pride of this faith exalts your name and makes sacred many pages of your history; this faith elevated over the vestiges of the pre-Colombian civilization, and over the savage solitudes, and even beyond the steep peaks of your mountains, the missionary spirit which, regenerating them in union with Rome, transformed those idolatrous peoples into devout children of the Spouse of Christ. (Pius XII. Radio Message for the 2nd National Eucharist Congress of Peru, January 27, 1940)

John Paul II

  • Overall positive evaluation of the labor of the first evangelizers – and a sentiment of vivid gratitude to the Lord

I wish, nevertheless, to reiterate the overall positive evaluation of the labor of the first evangelizers, who were in great part members of religious orders. […]

In this way, amid light and shadows – more light than shadows, if we think of the enduring fruits of faith and Christian life in the Continent – the first sowing of the word of life, born of so many fatigues and sacrifices, evokes the sentiments of the Apostle, that were a motto for so many missionaries: We were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well’ (1Thess 2:8). […]

The fruits of the first evangelization began to consolidate throughout the centuries and are characteristics of the Catholicism of the Latin American people, which also stands out for a profound communitarian sense, a desire for social justice, fidelity to the Church, profound Marian piety and love for the Successor of Peter. […] This rapid historic look over the ecclesial life of Latin America enflames me with a sentiment of vivid gratitude to the Lord for the labor of so many religious men and women who have sown the seed of the Gospel of Christ. (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter for the Fifth Centenary of the Evangelization of the New World, June 29, 1990, no. 4,8)

  • Extending his arms of mercy and love, Christ embraces the New World in its entirety ever since the 12th of October 1492

I am filled with joy to be once again in this generous land, which in the plans of God was predestined to receive, five centuries ago, the Cross of Christ, which, by extending his arms of mercy and love, Christ embraces the New World in its entirety, that on the 12 of October 1492, appeared, radiant, before the astonished gaze of Christopher Columbus and his companions. (John Paul II. Address, Welcoming ceremony at Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo, October 19, 1992)

  • Five centuries ago, all of the inhabitants of these lands were called to be part of the Church

This is the meaning of the exhortation of Saint Peter contained in the first reading: ‘Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’(1Pet 2:5). These words, directed to the Christians of the early Church, ended up being a reality for the inhabitants of these lands, when, five centuries ago, the message of salvation was announced for the first time. They were all called to be part of the spiritual edifice which is the Church, whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. (John Paul II. Homily, Mass for Priests and Religious, Santo Domingo, October 10, 1992)

  • The faith became a constitutive factor of the being and identity of the Americas – fruit of the blood of the martyrs

To this Continent arrived the Gospel of the beatitudes, the proclamation of Christ crucified and resurrected, of his compassionate and liberating sorrow, a way to a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more tears, nor death (cf. Rev 21: 1-4). ‘The kindness and generous love of God our Savior’ (Tit 3:4) have been proclaimed in these lands. In the open furrows of your history, the seed of the Gospel, watered by the blood of the martyrs, gave fruit as a believing people who welcomed the Lord of Life, and ‘the faith became a constitutive factor of their being and their identity’ (Puebla, 419), as five centuries of Christian life have demonstrated. (John Paul II. Homily at Mass for Priests and Religious, Santo Domingo, October 10, 1992)

  • America, open the doors wide to Christ! Let the seed planted five centuries ago give fruit in all the areas of your life

With the strength of the Holy Spirit the redeeming work of Christ is made present through that multitude of missionaries who, urged on by the mandate of the Lord to ‘proclaim the gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16:15), crossed the ocean to announce to their brothers the message of salvation. […] Today, together with the entire Church, we raise our thanks for the five centuries of evangelization. Truly the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled, which said: ‘Your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you’ (Is 60:5). These are the riches of faith, of hope, of love. They are ‘the wealth of nations’ (Ibid): their values, knowledge, and culture. The Church, who throughout its history has known difficulties and divisions, feels enriched by He who is the Lord of history. America, open wide the doors to Christ! Let the seed that was planted five centuries ago give fruit in all the areas of your life: individuals and families, culture and work, economy and politics, the present and the future. (John Paul II. Homily of the Mass on the Fifth Centenary of Evangelization in the Americas, Santo Domingo, October 11, 1992)

  • In the baptismal waters you were born to a new life in the Mystical Body of Christ, common home to all who invoke God as Father

Latin America! As Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome I salute you on this the 5th Centenary of your evangelization, recalling the year 1492 when the ships from Spain, guided by Columbus, brought to these fertile lands the seed of the Gospel, also making a reality the encounter between two worlds. […] I give thanks, over all, for your 500 years of Christian faith. In the baptismal waters you were born to a new life, integrated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church; one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, ark of salvation and common home to all those who invoke God as Father. Your openness to grace and your welcome to the Word of life have made you go from darkness into that admirable light which, in your saints, is a shining lamp that from the Church, lights up the world. America of the third Christian millennium: always be faithful to Jesus Christ! Be worthy of those abnegated missionaries who planted in your midst the seed of the faith. Open yourself more and more, with humility and love, to the Good News that liberates and saves. Firmly resist the attacks of evil and the temptation to violence. (John Paul II. Message to Latin America from the ‘Faro a Colon’, Lighthouse dedicated to Christopher Columbus, Santo Domingo, October 12, 1992)

  • How can we fail to give thanks for the seed planted by so many and such courageous missionaries!

This Conference meets to celebrate Jesus Christ, to give thanks to God for His presence in these lands of America, where, 500 years ago today, the message of salvation started spreading; it meets in order to celebrate the implantation of the Church, which, in the New World, during these five centuries has given such abundant fruits of sanctity and love. […] Evangelization itself, however, began with the second journey of the explorers, who were accompanied by the first missionaries. In this way the sowing of the precious gift of the faith began. And, how can we fail to give thanks to God for it, together with you, dear Brother Bishops, who today make present in Santo Domingo all of the particular Churches of Latin America? How can we fail to give thanks for the abundant fruits of the seed planted throughout these five centuries by so many and such courageous missionaries! (John Paul II. Inaugural Address on the occasion of the 4th General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, October 12, 1992)

  • Through faith in Christ, God renewed his alliance with Latin America

With the arrival of the Gospel in America the history of salvation expands, the family of God grows, and is multiplied ‘for the glory of God more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow’ (2Cor 4:5). The people of the New World were ‘new people…totally unknown to the Old World since the year 1492’, but known by God from all eternity and by Him embraced with the paternity that was revealed by the Son in the fullness of time (cf. Gal 4:4) In the peoples of America, God has chosen a new people, has incorporated them to his redeeming plan, has made them participate in his Spirit. Through the evangelization and the faith in Christ, God has renewed his alliance with Latin America. (John Paul II. Inaugural Address on the occasion of the 4th General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, October 12, 1992)

Benedict XVI

  • The priceless treasure of Latin America is faith in God – not a political ideology

This is the priceless treasure that is so abundant in Latin America, this is her most precious inheritance: faith in the God who is Love, who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ. You believe in the God who is Love: this is your strength, which overcomes the world, the joy that nothing and no one can ever take from you, the peace that Christ won for you by his Cross! This is the faith that has made America the ‘Continent of Hope.’ Not a political ideology, not a social movement, not an economic system: faith in the God who is Love—who took flesh, died and rose in Jesus Christ—is the authentic basis for this hope which has brought forth such a magnificent harvest from the time of the first evangelization until today… (Benedict XVI. Holy Mass for the inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida – Homily, May 13, 2007)

CELAM – General Conference of the Latin American Hierarchy

  • The Glory of the Church consists in having undertaken the work of civilization so that the indigenous people were incorporated into the bosom of true civilization

It is a glory for the Church to have undertaken the work of civilization [of America] and its evangelization; a glory to have defended it against those who wished to abuse it in other times; glory to have instilled this profound religious sentiment that solely awaits a persevering labor so that the ‘Indian’ may be incorporated with honor into the bosom of true civilization. The work of the missions among the unbelievers fills the most beautiful pages of the history of the Church in America. May this work continue gloriously, thanks to the apostolic spirit that, today as long ago, so powerfully fills our missionaries. (CELAM, First General Conference, Declaration of the Cardinals, Bishops and other prelates representing the Latin American Hierarchy, Rio de Janeiro, August 4, 1955)

  • Faith in God and the Catholic tradition are the greatest wealth of America

Therefore, we especially give thanks to God and praise him for everything that has been bestowed on us. We accept the entire reality of our continent as gift: the beauty and fertility of its lands, the richness of humanity expressed in the individuals, families, peoples, and cultures of the continent. Above all, we have been given Jesus Christ, the fullness of God’s Revelation, a priceless treasure, the ‘precious pearl’ (cf. Mt 13: 45-46), the Word of God made flesh, Way, Truth and Life of men and women, to whom he opens a destiny of utter justice and happiness. […] Faith in God who is Love and the Catholic tradition in the life and culture of our peoples are their greatest wealth. It is manifested in the mature faith of many of the baptized and in popular piety… (CELAM, Fifth General Conference, Concluding Document, no. 6-7, May13-31, 2007)

Pius XII

  • Universities inspired by the Church flourished in America – fruit of missionary work aided by the Catholic spirit of the legislation of the monarchs

And this in a world as is your Ibero-American world, in which the Church, fully conscious of the cultural mission that accompanies its religious message, with Friar Juan de Zumárraga, Friar Alonso de la Vera Cruz and the great bishop Vasco de Quiroga in Mexico; with Friar Jerónimo de Loaísa, José de Acosta and the eminent metropolitan Bishop of Lima, Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo in Peru; and with the Jesuits Torres Bollo, Manuel de Nóbrega and Saint Peter Claver in old Paraguay, in Brazil and in the New Granada, flourished an educative and schooling effort which, given the insufficient means of that century and the difficulties which were opposed to it, We are pleased to call it grandiose and profoundly enduring. It’s enough to recall the intent, in great part achieved, of those great missionaries, supported by the universal and Catholic spirit of the legislation of their monarchs, of melding into one people, through catechesis, school, and the colleges of Humane Letters, the indigenous element with the cultured classes coming from Europe or already born in the American lands. Nor was this effort limited to the elemental and humanistic teaching. For it is a perpetual glory for Hispanic America, that in the 18th century, there flourished in 19 of her cities as many or more university centers, inspired and directed by the Church. (Pius XII. Radio message on the occasion of the Fifth Inter American Congress of Catholic Education, January 12, 1954)

II – Praises lavished by the Popes on the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal for the evangelization of America

Pius IX

  • Spain was great because it founded its grandeur in propagating the Christian religion

Spain has always showed a special predilection for this Apostolic See and has sought to take Christian civilization to all nations of the globe. The Spanish flag has flown in the seas of America, India and other regions, to manifest that it was a symbol of the faith of Jesus Christ, differently than the tricolored flag [of the French Revolution] that represented and produced all of that which we all know. That is why Spain was great in former times, because it founded its grandeur in propagating the Christian religion, serving and defending it, and making all kinds of sacrifices to this end. (Pius IX. Address in response to the homage of Spanish pilgrims on the occasion of the XXV Anniversary of his Pontificate, June 20, 1870)

Pius X

  • Your nations have remained faithful to their faith and traditions

I congratulate you and all of the Bishops of Spanish America, because your nations […] have remained faithful to their faith and traditions. With this act of fidelity, which today you manifest toward Spain, you show your recognition of the debt of gratitude that you owe it, and that you praise; because unlike other peoples who, being favored by God, have nonetheless turned their backs to the Vicar of Christ, showing themselves to be extremely ungrateful, Spain, despite all difficulties, has always remained faithful to the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion, and, will surely remain so in the future. (Pius X. Allocution, November 22, 1908)

Pius XII

  • Portugal: God used you as a precious instrument for admirable accomplishments

And now, when more than a few European nations have been lost to the Church because of the changes in these calamitous times, We see your people and their Spanish brothers opening paths and laboring for the Church in the spacious lands of Africa, Asia, and America. […] But how does it happen that you, although not numerous, achieve such good deeds? (cf. Camoes, Lusiadas, VII. 3). Where did the people of Portugal get that vigorous strength with which they were able to dominate the shores of Africa and Asia and even the distant land of America? Without a doubt this came about because that nation, as the greatest poet of Portugal sang, persevered in an ardent and strong faith; also, your leaders were preeminent in Christian wisdom and prudence. Therefore, God used your nation as a precious instrument for admirable accomplishments. (Pius XII. Encyclical Saeculo exeunte octavo, no. 8-10, June 13, 1940)

John Paul II

  • Loving your past and purifying it, you will be faithful to yourselves

With my journey I had wished to awaken in you a remembrance of your Christian past and of the great moments of your religious history. That history for which – despite inevitable human failings – the Church owes you a testimony of gratitude. Without this signifying an invitation to live of nostalgias, gazing only to the past, I wished to incentivate your Christian potential: so that you may know how to illuminate your future from the light of faith and construct upon a Christian humanism the foundations of your current coexistence. For in loving your past and purifying it, you will be faithful to yourselves and capable of opening yourselves with originality to the future. (John Paul II. Farewell ceremony at the Labacolla Airport of Santiago de Compostela, November 9, 1982)

  • Thank you Spain for your fidelity to the Gospel and to the Spouse of Christ! – due to your incomparable evangelizing activity the most numerous portion of the Church of Christ today prays to God in Spanish

I come attracted by a admirable history of fidelity and service to the Church, written in apostolic undertakings and in so many great figures that renewed this Church, that strengthened its faith, defending it in difficult moments and giving it new children in entire continents. In effect, thanks above all for this incomparable evangelizing activity; the most numerous portion of the Church of Christ today, speaks and prays to God in Spanish. After my apostolic journeys, overall in Hispanic-American lands and the Philippines, I would like to say at this special moment: Thank you, Spain; thank you, Church of Spain, for your fidelity to the Gospel and to the Spouse of Christ! (John Paul II. Welcome address at Barajas Airport, October 30, 1982)

III – The purpose of the evangelization in America: to bring divine life to the pagans and treat them as children of God

Pius V

  • Be attentive to redirect this people to pacific customs and civilized ways of life

We also desire that you be attentive, as much as you are able, to redirect this people, and above all those who with the help of the Lord were received into the Christian faith, from the habits of a savage life to more pacific customs and civilized ways of life, as well as persuading them that by abandoning that inept nudity of the body, which they claim to be accustomed to, they assume clothes appropriate to Christian modesty and civilized customs. (Pius V. Letter Etsi fratenitas tuam to the Bishop of Salvador – Brazil)

  • By the propagation of religion, your kingdom shall also be consolidated and augmented – and will be rewarded in this life and the next

Because the motive through which that part of the world was granted since the beginning to your ancestors, was so that those who had not yet received the faith in Christ, in virtue of the laudable government of those who should direct them as also due to the good examples of those who should bring them to the Christian doctrine, feeling that the yolk of Christ is easy and light and not being oppressed by those who should care for them and nourish them, as though they were tender plants in the vineyard of the Lord, and even inflame and augment in them love for the Christian religion. Your Majesty may be certain that, by the propagation of religion, your kingdom shall, in these regions, through divine goodness and favor, also be consolidated and augmented, and will prepare for itself, through the merits obtained together with those peoples and before religion, a reward not only in this life as also in the other. (Pius V. Letter Cum oporteat nos to King Phillip II, August 17, 1568)

John Paul II

  • Men in whom pulsates concern for the weak, for the defenseless native

From the first moments of the discovery, there appears the concern of the Church to make the kingdom of God present in the heart of the new peoples, races, and cultures; in the first place, among your ancestors. If we wish to express our well-deserved thanks to those who transplanted the seeds of faith, this tribute must be paid in the first place to the religious orders which distinguished themselves, […] Nor is it a question, moreover, of a spreading of the faith detached from the life of those for whom it was intended; although it must always keep its essential reference to God. Therefore the Church in this island was the first to demand justice and to promote the defence of human rights in the lands that were opening to evangelization. Lessons of humanism, spirituality and effort to raise man’s dignity, are taught to us by Antonio Montesinos, Córdoba, Bartolomé de las Casas, echoed also in other parts by Juan de Zumárraga, Motolinia, Vasco de Quiroga, José de Anchieta, Toribio de Mogrovejo, Nóbrega and so many others. They are men in whom pulsates concern for the weak, for the defenseless, for the natives; subjects worthy of all respect as persons and as bearers of the image of God, destined for a transcendent vocation. The first International Law has its origin here with Francisco de Vitoria. The fact is that the proclamation of the Gospel and human advancement cannot be dissociated— this is the great lesson, valid also today. But for the Church, the former cannot be confused or exhausted, as some people claim, in the latter. That would be to close to man infinite spaces that God has opened to him. And it would be to distort the deep and complete meaning of evangelization, which is above all the proclamation of the Good News of Christ the Saviour. (John Paul II. Homily, Independence Square, Santo Domingo, January 25, 1979)

  • Apostles that put themselves side by side with the indigenous populations – he who evangelizes also civilizes

You wished that the mass of the Pope in his passage through this city be a remembrance of another Mass: that which was the first to be celebrated in the recently discovered land. What shall I say to you, then? The first observation to be made is that, while the majority of peoples came to know Christ and the Gospel after centuries of its history, the nations of the Latin American continent and, among them, in a special way Brazil, were born Christian. The caravels, which on April 3, 1500, docked at the bay of Porto Seguro, also brought the first missionaries and evangelizers, the sons of Saint Francis. When Pedro Álvares Cabral and the first colonizers disembarked, a cross was raised and the First Mass prayed, in which were present, some indigenous people, filled with admiration. To the new lands the name Land of the Holy Cross was given. These happenings, at the dawning of Brazil, would profoundly mark the five centuries of history of the new nation that was born to the West. […] It is certain that apostles, such as Father Jose Anchieta […] put themselves decidedly on the side of the indigenous populations, learning their language, assimilating their preferences, adapting themselves to their mentality, defending their lives and, simultaneously, announcing to them the saving truth of Jesus Christ, converting them to the Gospel, baptizing them and integrating them into the Church. Brazilian Catholicism rose in this way, evolving, as Brazil itself, into one of the most important fusions of human history. During three centuries, there were mixed here the native, European and the African, and, since last century, to the blood of the culture of the Arabs, such as the Christian Maronites, and the Asiatic Japanese immigrants, today constituting a great community, which is predominantly Catholic. In this way Brazil offers a highly positive testimony. Here a multi-racial community of Christian inspiration is being built. A real tapestry of races, as the sociologists affirm, all amalgamated through the bond of the same tongue and the same Faith. […] These are so many other proofs of the great religiosity of the Brazilians, Catholic in the absolute majority of its sons and daughters. The Christian Faith respects the cultural expressions of any people, as long as they are true and authentic values. But failing to transmit to all men the integral deposit of the Faith would be an infidelity to the very mission of the Church. […] It would be to not grant to men a fundamental right of theirs: the right to the truth. The true apostle of the Gospel is one who humanizes and evangelizes at the same time, in the certainty that, one who evangelizes, also civilizes. (John Paul II. Mass in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, July 7, 1980)

IV – The Popes were not silent about injustices. Condemnation under pain of excommunication to those who enslaved the peoples of the Americas

Paul III

  • Prohibition to rob or enslave the indigenous peoples

Now We who, despite our unworthiness, are the Lord’s representative on earth and wish, with all our strength, to bring into his fold those who have been entrusted to us and who are still outside the sheepfold, consider that the Indians, as true human beings, are not only capable of accepting the Christian faith but even more, from what We have learned, run with haste to embrace this faith. And desiring to bring them all the help necessary, We decide and declare, by these letters, in virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, that the said Indians and all other peoples whom Christians might come to know, even if they live outside the faith, can freely and licitly use, possess and enjoy freedom and the possession of their goods, and must not be enslaved. Every measure which contradicts these principles is abrogated and invalid. Moreover, We decide and declare that the Indians and the other peoples must be invited to the said faith of Christ by the proclamation of the word of God and by the example of a virtuous life. All things past or future which are contrary to these regulations are to be considered null and void. (Paul III. Apostolic Letter Veritas ipsa, May 27, 1537)

Urban VIII

  • Efficacious defense of the Indians – we vigorously prohibit that they be deprived of liberty in any way

We recommend and command each one of you assisting the same with the protection of an efficacious defense to the above-mentioned Indians in the provinces of Paraguay, Brazil and of the so-called River Plata [ Silver] as in any other part of the Western and Meridian Indies, we vigorously prohibit each and every one […] that they henceforth enslave these Indians, sell them, buy them, exchange them or give them, separate them from their wives and children, or in any other way deprive them of liberty or retain them in servitude. (Urban VIII. Letter to the Collector Jurium of the Apostolic Chamber of Portugal, April 22, 1639)

Benedict XIV

  • Profound sorrow caused by those who still hinder the indigenous from embracing the faith by inhuman treatment – even after grave punishments and ecclesiastical censures

Therefore we have come to know, with profound sorrow to our paternal spirit that, after so many counsels of apostolic providence dictated by our very predecessors, after so many constitutions providing that in the best way possible that help and protection would be provided to the unbelievers and prohibiting, under the most grave punishments and ecclesiastical censures, that they be injured, whipped, imprisoned or their death be caused, that even still, and above all in the regions of Brazil, there are men belonging to the true faith who, as though completely forgetting the meaning of charity infused in our souls by the Holy Spirit, either submit them to slavery, or sell them to others as though they were merchandise, or deprive the impoverished Indians of their goods, not only those lacking the light of the faith, but inclusively those regenerated by baptism, who live in the mountains and rugged regions within the eastern as well as the southern area of Brazil and other desert regions, they dare to behave toward these with such an inhumanity, that they hinder them from embracing the faith of Christ, making it profoundly odious to them. (Benedict XIV. Letter Immensa Pastorum, December 20, 1741)

  • Chastisement and grave punishments for those who behave toward the Indians in a manner contrary to Christian meekness and charity

In the effort to remedy these evils with all the power that God has given us, we have sought to interest firstly the eminent piety and the incredible zeal in the propagation of the Catholic religion of our dear son in Christ, John of Portugal, the illustrious king of the Algarve, who, given his filial devotion to Us and to this Holy See, has promised that he will immediately give orders to each and every one of the officials and ministers of his dominions so that they be chastised with the gravest punishments, according to the royal edicts, whosoever of his subjects is caught behaving toward these Indians in a manner contrary to that which the meekness of Christian charity requires. We pray you all, brothers, and We exhort you in the Lord with the object that not only do you not consent that lack – for the shame of your name and dignity – the vigilance, solicitude and the effort owing in this and your ministry, but also that, uniting your zeal to the offices of the ministers of the king, you demonstrate to all with how much greater ardor of priestly charity than the lay ministers, do the priest make efforts, pastors of souls, in the support of these Indians and in bringing them to the Catholic Faith. (Benedict XIV. Letter Immensa Pastorum, December 20, 1741)

  • Excommunication latæ sententiæ for those who mistreat the Indians

We, furthermore, with apostolic authority, and due to the nature of the matter at hand, renew and confirm the apostolic letters in the form of a short address by Pope Paul III, our predecessor, then cardinal of the Roman Church by the name of Juan Tavera, archbishop of Toledo, with the date of May 28, 1537, and the writings by Pope Urban VIII, equally our predecessor, to the then general collector of rights and fees due to the Apostolic Chamber in the kingdoms of Portugal and of the Algarve with the date of April 22, 1639; as also, following in the footsteps of these very predecessors, Paul and Urban, and desiring to repress the insolence of these wicked men that terrorize with inhuman acts the referred Indians, who in order to attract to receive the faith of Christ it is necessary to expend all resources of Christian charity, we recommend and command each one of you and your successors that each one by himself or by another or others, may be dictated edicts and proposals to be affixed in public places, aiding in the same with the protection of an efficacious defense to the same Indians within the provinces of Paraguay, Brazil and the region of the so-called Silver River as well as in any other place of the Western and Meirdian Indies, prohibit energetically for all and any one of the people, laypersons, as well as clergy, persons of any state, sex, level, condition and position, even those of special importance and with a title of dignity, as well as any order, congregation, society – including the Company of Jesus -, religious group and institutes of mendicants and non-mendicants, monks, regulars, without excluding any of the military orders nor even the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, under the pain of excommunication latae sententiae, which is incurred by the mere fact of transgressing that which has been ordered, and of which they may not be absolved, except in articulo mortis and with previous satisfaction, except by Us or by the Roman Pontiff reigning at the time, that continually enslave such Indians, sell them, buy them, exchange or given them, separate them from their wives and children, strip them of their belongings and goods, bring them from one place to another or transport them, or in any other way deprive them of the liberty or retain them in servitude; equally those who dare or presume to counsel, aid, help or collaborate with those who do such things, under no pretext and by no means, or transmit and teach that doing so is licit or cooperate with them in any way; declaring that, whosoever be the violators and the rebels may be, as well as those who do not obey what was formerly stated to any one of you, you have incurred the punishment of the indicated excommunication, and are reprehended equally with other censures and ecclesiastical punishments and other opportune remedies de iure and de facto, having deferred all appellation and observed the legal proceedings that exist in practice, augmenting the censures and the same punishments in the cases of repeated offences and inclusively invoking for this, if necessary, the aid of the secular powers, We, with superior authority, grant and concede to each one of you and of your successors full, entire and free capacity. (Benedict XIV. Letter Immensa Pastorum, December 20, 1741)

John Paul II

  • The Catholic Church: moved by the fidelity to the Spirit of Christ, an untiring defender of the Indians and protector of the values of their cultures

We give, then, thanks to God for the profusion of evangelizers who left their country and gave their lives to sow in the New World the new life of faith, hope and love. They were not moved by the legend of ‘El dorado’, or personal interests, but rather by the urgent call to evangelize some brothers that did not yet know Jesus Christ. They announced ‘the kindness and generous love of God our Savior, and His love for men’ to peoples who even offered human sacrifices to their gods. They testified, with their witnessing and with their word, the humane [conduct] that blossoms from the encounter with Christ. Through their testimony and their preaching, the number of men and women who opened themselves to the grace of Christ was multiplied ‘as the stars in the sky, and as countless as the sands on the sea shore’. Ever since the first steps of the evangelization, the Catholic Church, moved by fidelity to the Spirit of Christ, was an untiring defender of the Indians, protecting the values that existed in their cultures, being the defensor of humane treatment in face of the abuses of often unscruplous colonizers. The denouncing of the injustice and abuses through the work of Montesinos, Las Casas, Cordoba, Friar Juan del Valle and so many others, were as a clamor that proposed legislation inspired on the recognition of the sacred value of the person. The Christian conscience blossemed with prophetic bravery in this teaching of dignity and of liberty that was, in the University of Salamanca, the School of Victory, and in so many exemplary defenders of the natives, in Spain and in Latin America. Names which are well-known have, on the occasion of the 5th Centenary, been remembered with admiration and gratitude. On my part, and for the precision in defining the profiles of the historic truth, highlighting the Christian roots and the Catholic identity of the continent, I suggested that an International Symposium be held regarding the History of the Evangelization of America, organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The historic facts show that a valid, fruitful and admirable evangelizing work was undertaken, and that, through it, the truth about God and about man arrived to in such a point in America that, in fact, the evangelization itself constitutes a kind of tribunal of accusations for those responsible for such abuses. (John Paul II. Inaugural address on the occasion of the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate – Santo Domingo, CELAM IV, October 12, 1992)

One thought on “Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. 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. The bicentennial of Latin America’s cry for independence commemorates a cry which arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation of being subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.

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