|June 29, 2005||Vol. 3, No. 9|
Michael Gillgannon, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., is director of campus ministry for the Archdiocese of La Paz, Bolivia. He has been a missionary serving in Bolivia since 1974.
Open Letters to the New Pope:
We can, must learn from our errors
By Michael Gillgannon
(Editor's Note: Global Perspective is featuring Catholics from across the globe writing open letters to the new pope, Benedict XVI. Today, Michael Gillgannon writes from La Paz, Bolivia.)
Dear Elder Brother Benedict,
We wish to assure you of our prayers and support from the forgotten church and people of Latin America. We know the enormity of your task and that of your collaborators in seeking safe harbor for the barque of Peter in these stormy times across the world of global economic and political empires.
What would we ask of your new papacy is to change some ecclesial visions and pastoral practices of the colonial mission past of our people. Here might be some places to start.
First, dear brother Benedict, you, we missionaries and the hierarchical leadership of local Latin American churches have a lot of homework to do. We can no longer take Latin American Catholicism for granted.
Some questions we face: Why is the Catholic church in Latin America so numerous (over half a billion people), and rich in its variety of cultures and yet so poor and dependent? The Latin American church has barely begun to be a mission sending church. The local dioceses of most Latin American Churches still are dependent on foreign missionary clergy (such as Bolivia with almost two-thirds of it clergy and bishops still missionaries). Five hundred years later, why are almost all Latin American churches unable to support themselves and continue to receive huge sums of mission donations from other churches through agencies like Adveniat and Misereor (Germany) and the Secretariat for Latin America (USA)?
The Spanish Colonial system of the patronato gave the Spanish king total control of church and state till 1825. Huge haciendas, mines, water rights, and land were all distributed to loyal subjects (which never included the native peoples) including bishops, priests and religious communities for their catechetical, educational and health services with no relationship to the local people and their participation (The local people were, after all, just slaves anyway). The bishops and priests were all named by the king or the viceroy and were accountable only to the civil authorities (The patronato in Bolivia only ended in the 1960s and the third article of the present Bolivian Constitution says the Catholic church is the recognized church with certain fiscal support, but with religious liberty for all).
Finally, brother in Christ, like your predecessor, we know of your devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which you share with our people in Latin America. And yet … and yet … why does Catholic machismo take pride of place in homes and offices and real life in the streets. Why is the real live Latin woman degraded and physically victimized daily while pious, but not always relevant, devotions and processions in honor of the Virgin Mary take place in parishes, schools and countless Marian shrines all over the continent? The contradictions are plain for all to see.
A flourishing fountain of faith and mission service to the world awaits an awakened and committed Catholic church all over Latin America. We support and accompany you, Brother Benedict, in this evangelical challenge of renewal in faith and life.
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