|Madre Laura and native Colombias |
(Photo: Radio Super Popayan)
Madre Laura worked tirelessly and selflessly to defend and evangelicize Colombia's native peoples and should be admired and honored for her efforts. I have no doubt that she meant the best and aided many native people.
But evangelization, one of the central themes of Europeans' interaction with Native Americans, has also produced great tragedy. Spreading the Catholic faith was one of Spain's justifications for colonizing the Americas (Spain had just driven the last Arab armies from its territory - and expelled its Jews and Moslems). But spreading Catholicism often became a cover for the exploitation, enslavement and even mass murder of native peoples.
Even in its most benevolent and well-intentioned forms, like Madre Laura's efforts, evangelization permanently changed indigenous people's values and ways of living. In southern Bolivia I saw the results of United States evangelicals' efforts to convince the Ayoreos, a hunter-gatherer people, to switch their faith from an owl to Jesus Christ and settle down around evangelical missions. But after the hunter-gatherers abandonded their traditional lifestyle, they discovered junk food, alcoholism, prostitution, crime and Western diseases such as measles, diabetes and obesity. When I visited them, they were inhabiting plastic and cardboard shacks in slums on the outskirts of the city of Santa Cruz. The slum did have a ramshackle Christian church, tho. I met a daughter of one of the missionaries, who expressed only pride in her parents' accomplishments.
In May 2007 indigenous leaders responded angrily to Pope Benedict's claim that Catholicism was 'not imposed' on native peoples.
"While we are believers" in Christianity, said Luis Andrade, director of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), "we cannot accept that the church tries to deny its responsibility in the aniquilation of our identity and culture."
Of course, Christian evangelicals have not been the only Westerners to impact native cultures. Hunters, miners, soldiers, guerrillas, farmers and slave hunters have all done so, and without the evangelicals benevolent goals. And, evangelicals such as Madre Laura have often defended indigenous peoples and what remains of their culture from such hostile outside forces.
Still, it's hard to think of anything more fundamental to a people's culture and way of life than their religion. So, by replacing that religion with a foreign one, western evangelicals permanently change - and perhaps destroy - native people's ways of life.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours