Indigenous Warao people set up camp in Manaus, Brazil. The Brazilian government is working to undo constitutional protections for Indigenous peoples, said Brazilian Archbishop Roque Paloschi. CNS photo/Jair Araujo, EPA

Apology is just the start of healing for Indigenous: Brazilian Archbishop

By 
  • July 28, 2017

Sorrow, regret and apologies are the natural outcome of the Church’s dedication to the truth whenever it confronts its history with Indigenous people, says a Brazilian bishop whose diocese includes more than 20 Indigenous territories and endangered cultures.

“The Church should not fear the truth,” said Archbishop Roque Paloschi of Porto Velho, a city in the western reaches of the Amazon near the border between Brazil and Bolivia. “The Church has to take responsibility for its past — the things that have gone well and the mistakes.”

Pope Francis’ 2015 apology to Indigenous Bolivians has strengthened the Church and the entire community in the western Amazon basin, Paloschi told The Catholic Register on a visit to Toronto.

“Asking a pardon is not the end point,” Paloschi said through an interpreter. “It’s a line that opens up a new way of dialogue. There are highs and lows. There is light and shadows. The Church constructs relationships with everybody…. It (an apology) makes the Church not the owner of the truth but more humble — seeking the truth.”

Paloschi doesn’t doubt that Pope Francis would willingly apologize in Canada to survivors of the residential school system. But the hard work for the Church starts after the apology is accepted and everybody has to live up to new commitments.

The history of the Church and colonization is more complex than just a series of oppressions, land-grabs and humiliations for Aboriginal people around the world.

“The Church also took the side of Indigenous people,” he said. But often that part of the Church was usually not linked to imperial power, Paloschi added. “The Catholic Church has asked for pardon and will continue to ask for pardon for an evangelization that was imposed rather than offered. Today, the Church has to be prophetic in the face of a culture built on consumerism, acquisitiveness, power and pleasure.”

As the president of the Brazilian bishop’s Indigenous missionary council, Paloschi wrote to Pope Francis last year to explain how farming and mining interests have dispossessed Indigenous.

“We live in Brazil a desperate situation, in the face of the suffering of our first inhabitants — indifference, the advance of large agri-business projects, construction of large hydroelectric plants, mining and devastation of the environment in general. This has disastrous consequences for Indigenous peoples,” Paloschi wrote in June 2016.

In the chaos of Brazil’s scandal-plagued government, ranchers and miners have gained new influence with the administration of President Michel Temer. That has translated into weakening legal protections for Indigenous territories and the suppression of Indigenous leadership that fights for land rights and the environment.

“We are living as if under a military dictatorship,” Paloschi told the Catholic News Service. “Leaders and entire peoples are being criminalized.”

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