e-mail us
An ecumenical quest for justice

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

A call to recognize all Christian churches as “complementary depositories” of Christian truth, has been issued by church leaders from many countries of Latin America, including some 60 Catholic bishops.

The call for ecumenism in the quest for justice, issued by church leaders meeting in Riobamba, Ecuador, last month, was a radical departure from the traditional stand of the Catholic church in Latin America and a rebuke to the Vatican’s growing insistence on doctrinal absolutes.

The document also included a plea for recognition of all religious values, especially those of the indigenous and Afro-American religions found throughout Latin America.

Church leaders said they had come together to show solidarity, to renew previous calls for justice and to issue an alarm as the world moves to a globalized economy that excludes the needs of poor people.

“We denounce absolutely the villainy of the new economic system in its totality,” religious leaders said in a statement released at the meeting’s end. They referred to a market-driven economy where transnational corporations are given free rein. The statement described such a system as one of “exclusion, idolatry of profit and out-of-control ecocide.”

The international gathering also called for “a personal and structural conversion in our churches and societies,” for cancellation of Third World debt and reform of such international institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. As currently organized, those institutions “give privileged status to the affluent and exploitative countries,” the statement said.

At the same time, the religious leaders called for internal reforms of political, judicial and social institutions, targeting in particular institutionalized violence in Latin America.

The international gathering, sponsored by Bishop Victor Corral Mantilla of Riobamba, and commemorating the anniversaries of two previous landmark gatherings, called its statement the Grito of Riobamba.

Grito -- meaning “call” or “cry” -- is a word that has historical overtones for Latin Americans. The Grito de Dolores of Mexican Fr. Miguel Hidalgo started the Latin American War of Independence from Spain in 1810.

Some 60 Catholic bishops and 1,000 community representatives attended the September gathering, along with representatives of Anglican and Lutheran churches and Ecuador’s indigenous and African-American religions.

Other participants included the Friends of Leónidas Proaño. The group, named for the former bishop of Riobamba, consists of bishops, priests and lay people who were arrested as “subversives” and expelled by the Ecuadorian government at a meeting in Riobamba in August 1976.

The recent gathering commemorated that 1976 gathering and the 10th anniversary of what leaders called the “death/resurrection” of Proaño, who was known for his support of indigenous people as agents of their own destiny. The gathering also marked the 30th anniversary of the historic Medellín meeting of Latin America bishops, which made a clear choice for radical transformation of society, denouncing institutionalized violence and neocolonialism.

Speakers at the September meeting included Chilean theologian Pablo Richard, a professor at the National University of Costa Rica; Brazilian liberation theologian José Oscar Beozzo; Javier Iguiniz of Catholic University of Lima, Peru; Argentine Nobelist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel; and liberation theologian Jose Comblin of Brazil.

Noting that poverty describes the situation of more than 70 percent of Latin Americans, the statement stressed the option of the poor as of “particular relevance.”

Equally important, the statement said, “are the struggles and the alternative contributions of indigenous peoples (and of the African-American peoples) in efforts to defend their land, their autonomy and their cultural lifestyles.”

In words that recall Medellín, the religious leaders vowed to “denounce tirelessly” the “idolatry of profit and ecocide,” the arms race, and “repressive militarism.”

The statement also denounced “the perverse new onslaught” of the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (NCR, Oct. 9).

While several of the bishops at the 1976 meeting in Riobamba were from the United States, the only bishop from North America at last month’s meeting was Herbert Hermes of Cristalåndia, Brazil. The Kansas-born Benedictine’s account of a recent criticism by the nuncio in Brazil was one of the light moments at the conference.

“There is starvation, slavery, land theft and ecocide in my diocese,” Hermes said, “but when the nuncio came to visit, his one concern was that I should shave off my mustache.” The mustache has survived.

In a striking departure from the traditional position of the Latin American church, the meeting formally commemorated the 50th anniversary of the World Council of Churches and the 25th anniversary of the Latin American Council of Churches.

The statement stressed the need for including all churches and indigenous religions in the quest for justice because they are “complementary depositories of the truth and holiness of the unique mystery of Christ.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 23, 1998