Fr. Julián de la Morena in Chiapas, Mexico

Amazonia /1: "I, modern traveller, amongst the indigenous"

“We have come to contemplate the peoples”, said Francis, at the opening of the Synod. In a series of articles, Julián de la Morena, missionary in Latin America, recounts his encounters with indigenous Christians. Simple people, but of great human stature.
Julián de la Morena

The native peoples who still live in Latin America maintain their identity in a predominantly mestizo continent. In the course of eighteen years, traveling often to Latin America - which took me from the mountains of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, to Tierra del Fuego in the south of the continent - I was able to get to know the indigenous communities, which changed my mind about these people.

Under apparently poor or folkloric clothes, there are wise people who have a sense of life that is a great treasure for humanity. The sense of reality that the native peoples possess is sacred, and it amazes those who meet them; their mentality brings together, in unity, everything that is connected to life. This is a great surprise for the modern traveller, whose life, in general, is divided into unconnected spheres. The relationship that these men have with nature, experienced as a gift, is significant. Their interest in the origin of everything and their respect for the traditions of their peoples awakens, in Westerners who come into contact with them, nostalgia for something that has been lost.
The relationship that these peoples have had with Europeans, throughout history, has, in many cases, passed through oppression and abuse, has generated contamination and vices in their traditions, to the point of becoming an ideological colonization that has distorted them. But those peoples who have not been influenced by Enlightenment thought recognize, in the encounter with Christianity, a wonderful wealth for their culture.

It was affirmed that the Church, in the process of conversion of the peoples of America, exercised violence for which it must ask forgiveness. Undoubtedly, abuse was committed and, for this reason, the Church, in the jubilee of the year 2000, asked for forgiveness. But the awareness with which most indigenous Christians live is different, as I saw for the first time years ago, in a village of Guaraní near Asunción, Paraguay.

I was travelling with a friend, and they introduced me to an elderly Guaraní, head of a large family, who lived in a hut made of mud and reeds, where a fire was always lit to prepare food. The young people and adults who came in and out of the hut asked for the blessing of the head of the family and he, half asleep, consented with a nod. My friend introduced me as a Spanish priest; when the old man heard this, he immediately stood up and turned to me with great respect, thinking that I was a Jesuit. He immediately told me that his people had been touched by grace with the arrival of the Society of Jesus, which had brought the Christian faith to them and that had led them into a period of great development but, unfortunately, more than 200 years had passed since the missions were destroyed.

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The Synod on the Amazon, convened by Pope Francis, places these native peoples at the centre of the Church, who incite great curiosity throughout the world.
I would like to contribute to this moment in the Church’s life by telling three stories of encounters I have had with people of different indigenous ethnic groups in Latin America.

(to be continued)