Pope Francis formally apologized this past Thursday for “the sins and “offenses” committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.” In the same trip to Boliva that the pope was reportedly to take place in the chewing of coca, the pope asked forgiveness from the indigenous groups and Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.
Francis admits with regret:
“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… I also want for us to remember the thousands and thousands of priests who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross. There was sin, and it was plentiful. But we never apologized, so I now ask for forgiveness. But where there was sin, and there was plenty of sin, there was also an abundant grace increased by the men who defended indigenous peoples.”
The crowd’s response: wild and cheerful applause. “We accept the apologies that are more than we could have hoped for from a man like Pope Francis,” says indigenous leader, Adolfo Chávez. It is clear that the power of forgiveness transcends religious belief, and can touch even those who have been mistreated for centuries.
This powerful apology was significant for many reasons. Many native cultures held much well deserved disregard for the church when thousands were slaughtered in the name of “God” during the conquest of indigenous america. The native spiritual teachings and medicines were also demonized, causing a deep-rooted misunderstanding by christians as to the values and benefits the native cultures had to offer. This is a step in the right direction in unifying the world religions to understand all people as one, and to garner respect for traditions older than time itself.