Global Perspective

June 29, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 9

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Michael Gillgannon
 
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.

Read more letters to the pope
  • Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves from Chennai, India: Wilkommen, Welcome, Swagatham!.
  • Joseph Adero Ngala from Nairobi, Kenya: Africa knows the church's good works, not its doctrine.
  • Geraldine Hawkes from Adelaide, Australia: In the right hands, a garden can flourish.
  • Janina Gomes from Mumbai, India: Churchgoers must confront some tough questions.
  • Michael Gillgannon from La Paz, Bolivia: We can, must learn from our errors.
  • Antonio D. Sison from the Philippines: The musings of a Filipino Catholic.
  • Dominic Emmanuel from New Delhi: Building bridges to other religions doesn't compromise Catholic identity.
  • Virginia Saldanha from Mumbai, India: Asian women request a true dialogue.
  • Greg Lopez from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: How much is too much?.
  • We say the forgotten church and people of Latin America because we see a continued preoccupation on your part about the secularized societies of Europe and their apparent indifference to the faith of their ancestors. Latin America is still the most "Catholic" center of faith, culture and population in the world but its gifts are yet to be realized. Either in the church or on the world stage of globalization. Five hundred years of colonial attitudes toward the church and people of the Americas have left their marks of dependency and debility.

    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)?


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    The last question leads us to a host of historical anomalies. The people of Latin America have never experienced a healthy sharing of goods in common through any system of taxation or church stewardship since the Spanish arrived in 1492. The Spanish/Portuguese Conquest stole billions of dollars in gold and silver, all from slave labor, from Latin America. Nobody pays civil and commercial taxes except under duress and after running out of bribes and subterfuges (You could have your people read the innumerable studies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on that contemporary Latin idiosyncrasy). Nobody would dream of regular church support except through our medieval system of paying for sacred services like Masses and sacraments (Luther's problem of simony remains a problem for us).

    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).

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    And the anomaly of poverty? Who would not want the churches to assist their poorer sisters? Except, Brother Benedict, we would ask you to come and visit us soon and see not just the poverty but the enormous wealth of modern Latin American cities, the high rises, the gated communities, the profligate and conspicuous consumption of the wealthy. The distribution curve of wealth and the breach between the wealthiest and the poorest puts Catholic Latin America among the most unequal economies in the world. What do serious pastoral people do about this? The Protestant evangelical congregations make it a point to ask their faithful for personal and lifestyle commitment to the gospel plus systematic tithing from the millions of Catholics crossing over to their churches. Are we to blame them for their success -- or may we learn from them the errors and discrepancies in our cultural Latin Catholicism?

    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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