Billions of crosses of a cruel colonisation, which threatens to escalate today in casino capitalism: The retired bishop and liberation theologian Dom Erwin Kräutler worked for decades along side Xingu and Amazonas river in Brasil for peace, for the rights of the indigenous people and a fair world economic order, which does no harm, but benefits all beings, and wrote on the occasion of inappropriate celebrations „500 years of Latin America“ in 1992 his experience and view of the cruel and shameful European colonisation history, which threatens to escalate today as neocolonisation in casino capitalism and neoliberalism. His text gets under your skin, is affecting and more relevant than ever, because just today taking the „forbidden fruit – greed for power and money – is „justified“ by the same clique as once with the same insane bigotry and with help of mass media. „Every child starving to death today has been murdered“, says sociologist Jean Ziegler in a nutshell:
„500 years of Latin America – the night is not over yet“ by Dom Erwin Kräutler (1992)
To learn from history requires the courage to call the mistakes and wrong decisions, the mass murdering and environment damaging excesses for domination and greed for power of the offenders and nations by the name, to denounce their warlike iniquities and atrocities. The historic guilt of the church must be admitted once without any concealment tactics. It’s about the truth that should be „holy“ especially to the church. The courage to truth will initiate a process of conversion and rethinking that we all need! This process is only possible if we first explore our conscience, then acknowledge and regret mistakes. Repentance and forgiveness are not enough. Guilt must be recognised and made good again. We must go other way, take a different direction, which really gives birth to a „New World“ in which a fair order flourishes on interpersonal and social, national and international levels.Christopher Columbus opens the door to modern times for Europe. For the natives, however, the „discovery“ ist the beginning of the end, the beginning of the downfall. Columbus kisses the ground of the „New World“. The banner of the Crucified is planted on October 12, 1492. This October 12th is a Friday. The early morning hour of the centuries-long Good Friday of Latin America. On the island of Guanahani, where Europeans land for the first time, it takes only 25 years for all the natives to be eradicated. But this is only the beginning of Good Friday of the indigenous people.Columbus himself described in a report to the Spanish court the Indians as very friendly, warm and peace-loving: „So docile and peaceful are these people that I swear to your majesties, there is no better people in the world – they love each other even as they love themselves.“ A few days later, on October 27, 1492, Europeans land on what is today Cuba. Bartolomé de Las Casas reports a few decades later: „The island of Cuba is now deserted.“ On 6 December of the same year, they come to Haiti, where the base „La Navidad“ is founded. Spain’s soldiers „repay“ the Indian friendship and helpfulness described by Columbus with plunder, enslavement and rape. When the Indians finally defend themselves, they pay with their lives. Haiti has one million inhabitants in 1492, and thirty years later the original population shrank to 16,000. In 1500, the earth’s population was 400 million people. 80 million of them inhabited the continent south of the Rio Grande, today’s Latin America and the Caribbean. As early as 1570, the population there was reduced to 10 million. Portugal hat one million inhabitants at the same time, Spain and England three million. Stunned, we are facing the greatest Holocaust in human history! There are also millions of African slaves who were hunted like rabbits in their home country and then deported to Latin America and the Caribbean. Countless people were miserable on the transport ships, hundreds of thousands were victims of forced labor.
More than 25 million Aztecs live in Mexico in 1519, when conquerer Hernán Cortéz arrives.
The population of their capital Tenochtitlan is comparable to Paris in the same epoch. The city was a kind of Venice in a salt lake 2600 meters above the sea. The 60-meter high temple was adorned with works of art, the Imperial Palace and the huge marketplace dazzled with their splendor Hernán Cortéz, who proclaims overwhelmed by so much beauty: „This is probably the most beautiful in the world.“ As the „servants and spreaders of the power of Christ and our King“ – as Cortéz calls himself and his murderous, marauding, women-desecrating soldiers – enter Tenochtitlan, they immediately slaughter 40,000 Aztecs. Cortéz told the Catholic King of Spain with un unsurpassable sadism: „The howls, cries and lamentations of women and children would have softened even a heart of stone … so many dead lay around that we did not put our foot on the ground.“ And Cortéz rates this carnage as a measure „in the name of the Almighty God of Kindness“. For, „if we fight against the idolaters, who are enemies of Christ, we fight for the cause of Christ“. Ancient Mexico becomes New Spain. In the „name of God“ a people and its glittering culture is swept away from the ground. Of the 25 million Aztecs Cortéz encountered, more than eight million died of war an victimisation in the first four years. By the year 1600, there was only one million left.
The Inca empire was a multi-ethnic state, which united about 500 different ethnic groups.
It was the best organised state of the continent. 900,000 square kilometres covered the empire. There were irrigation systems, arable land, beautiful buildings and places, a kind of postal system, a 6000 km long road network. In times of crisis, food was transported to remote villages. The illiterate Francisco Pizarro, who made it only a swineherd in Spain, decided to conquer the Inca empire for Spain. On 15 November 1532 he reached Cajamarca. Again it is a Friday, which is now the Good Friday of the Inca. Accompanied by Father Vicente de Valverde, Pizarro meets unarmed Inca king Atahualpa. The religious, with a crucifix in one hand and a bible in the other hand, commands Atahualpa to worship the cross. Of course, the Inca king does not know the cross and bible and he can not do anything with it. Yet he takes the Holy Book and holds it to his ear in the opinion of hearing the voice of a distant god. He does not hear anything and drops the book on the ground. This is in the eyes of the Spaniards pure blasphemy and the Father is outraged and cries hysterically: „Down with the unbelievers!“ 12,000 Incas found death. Atahualpa is captured and sentenced to death at the stake in a show trial. In this industry, the Europeans have now gained right experience. The Catholic Kings of Spain decided to renew the Inquisition a few decades ago. Under the pretext of saving Christianity from its enemies, political opponents were burned as heretics. To escape the death of fire, Atahualpa swears his faith in the sun god and can be baptised. As a reward for his conversion, he does not come at the stake, but is „only“ strangled tied to a stake. In 1533 Cuzco, the „naval of the world“, the capital of the Inca, falls – and goes up in flames. Temples and houses are razed to the ground, art treasures stolen, the temple virgins desecrated. The surviving Incas were enslaved. The gold-hungry swineherd from Catalonia smashes the empire of the Incas and also claims to have done God a well-pleasing service.At the reading of the Passion on Good Friday, it says, „Here kneel and commemorate the Redeemer’s death of Christ“. Jesus Christ is present in every crucified Indian and despised and shattered culture. „What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.“
Ninety percent of the indigenous population have fallen victim to the Conquista.
For Latin America, on October 12, 1492, the Good Friday of Suffering and Blood began. This blood flows in torrents to this day, without that an Easter Sunday would be in sight. At the world scandal of the greatest genocide and destruction of the world, the church is complicit. In reality, there has never been what is euphemistically called „meeting different cultures“ – instead, the church is pompously and triumphantly preparing to celebrate the anniversary. Neither was there a „discovery“. What actually happened was the most brutal invasion and conquest. Church documents must not obscure this reality by referring to the „spirit of those times“ and by exaggerating brutal wars of annihilation to „vicissitudes of history“ for which no one is ultimately blamed. It was not a peaceful encounter of cultures from two worlds, a friendly approach to each other, with respect and empathy. There was no dialogue. In fact, it was and immediate and unmistakable challenge to the cultural identity of these peoples, a terrible impact and devastating attack. From the very beginning, it was about subjugating the peoples and crushing their cultural otherness.
And the church participated in this tragic and unequal struggle and justified it on religious reasons.
The missionary work was – with few exceptions – no evangelisation. No interpretive make-up can be used today to smooth the wrinkles that guilt put in the face of the church. There is no reason to absolve the church of complicity, claim to power or diplomatic forgiveness. The great prophetic figures of the Dominican Order, Bartolomé de Las Casas, António deMontesinos, Pedro de Córdoba and many others who consciously sided with the oppressed aborigines and may well constitute the only glorious history of the church in the history of the Conquista, can not hide the fact that the „official“ church has bitterly failed. Many missionaries who stood up for the Indians were persecuted and labeled as heretics. Many of them were hounded by the Inquisition’s sniffer dogs, who snooped around everywhere, but never explored their own conscience, but always that of the others. Many clerics not only tolerated the enslavement of Indians and Africans, but even benefited from it. For example, almost all orders in Brazil until the official abolition of slavery in 1888 were slave owners. And Rome goes on the path of diplomacy, cold as snow in March, instead of going the way of the gospel and the prophets. The church is ethnocentric, thinks itself perfect and is autocratic. She pretends to habe leased God forever and ever and to be the soul bearer of culture. The church does not need to listen to anyone, but knows everything and can therefore use the spell beam in the „name of God“ (which God? certainly not the God of Jesus Christ!) to differently thinking and differently feeling people and burn them at the stake. The demonisation of the religious sentiment of the Indians was not enough for the church, she even put psychoterror and pressure on them. „In hell, you are all dead, your ancestors, all who ever lived here. You too will come there if you are not baptised. All non-Christians are enemies of God.“ The Jesuits in Brazil testify: „Out of fear, they are ready for anything.“ That hat nothing to do with Christian faith, where God becomes man, who loves people and afflicts his people in grace and mercy. Rather, according to the Greek-philosophical scheme, God was represented as the „highest being“. The Indians had the impression that the missionaries were masters over life and death. Where was the God of tenderness and mercy, where was Jesus of Nazareth, who loves the poor and takes on degraded women, heals lepers, walks lame, enlightens the blind, opens deaf ears, feeds the starving and raises the dead? Instead of proclaiming the loving and merciful God (of love) revealed by Jesus, a morality of commandments and sins, in a decidedly casuistic style, has been and will be emphasised, without any concern, without any empathy with the ethics of Indian cultures. What was that evangelisation? It would be correct to say that there was a transplantation of the Spanish or Portuguese model of church and faith, without any investigation into the degree of tolerability of the implanted organs. „Force them to enter!“ Even if they perish. Dear a dead and baptised Maya, as a living one who has not renounced his faith and culture. The descendants of these peoples bleeding to death on countless crosses are today treated worse than the Hebrews of the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Babylonian exile, or the Christians of Rome under Diocletian and Nero. The Indians fought back in 1992 against the church’s intention to celebrate a 500-year celebration of evangelisation: „We have suffered for centuries, the process of extinction has never stopped since … the Indians have paid for the so-called discovery of America through suffering and pain“ said Indian representative Orlando Baré to the Pope on October 17, 1991. It can be understood that the Indian representatives left their heads disappointed when John Paul II spoke in his address to the Indians of the „grandiose epoch of proselytising“ and defended it against „the ideological slander of the evangelisation of Brazil“. Too bad that the Pope did not use this encounter with the Indians to apologise for the church’s complicity in the genocide.
The night is not over yet: two thirds of the Latin American population are malnourished and starving.
The big cities explode. Farmers without land and such with small farms displaced by landlords move to the cities, „vegetate“ there and end up in a miserable existence in the favelas and outskirts. In Brazil alone there are today (1992 note) 15 million children without a home and family, completely on their own. They besiege streets and squares. In order to cleanse the society of these „criminal elements“, dedicated killer squads are organising real cruel hunts for street children. In 1990 alone, nearly 5,000 street children were murdered. Native peoples are still threatened in their survival. The partly positive legislation in the constitution remains a dead letter. Unemployment, underemployment, unfair wages, chronic hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, illiteracy, daily experience of violence and death, with infant mortality rate, unscrupulous exploitation of brothers and sisters and environment – these are just a few more headlines for this continent. Poverty is not destiny, poverty is made. Someone bears responsibility for this, poverty is „death by installment“.
Poverty is physical death as a result of hunger and disease. Poverty is intellectual death as a result of illiteracy and the restriction of personal development, which makes participation in social processes impossible. Poverty, however, is also the result of the programmed death of race, the consciously induced destructions of cultures, the extinction of „native languages“. Poverty has concrete faces. Misery has names. Race, culture, language are not abstract, but characterise peoples, are sacred and protected good, passed on to children by parents for generations. Nothing is more terrible than losing one’s identity. This is poverty in its most extreme form. Poverty is not being allowed to be!
For 500 years natural product have been plundered.
The industrial products of Latin America are among the cheapest on the world market because workers in the factories are payed with mockery and starvation wages compared to the industrialised countries. This unfair system enters another phase. Technologies of the industrialised countries make raw materials and cheap labor more and more uninteresting, multinational corporations go back to their home climes after decades of exploitation in Latin America and make use of the progress in their home countries. The workers of Latin America are left to their fate, like a whore after a poorly paid bednight. Latin America exports not only commodities, but hard currency to pay off the foreign debt. In recent years, interest and compound interest has already been paid fivefold on the loans received. The bill has already been settled several times. But there is no receipt, no „thankfully received“! Latin America should continue to bleed an probably live until the Last Day in the backyard of the First World. Kept dependent and suppressed – as usual.
The foreign debt is the modern tribute that Latin America must pay to the „old and new masters“ of this world!
No economic manager or banker in the respective „donor country“ feels the consequences of the globally networked capital transfer in his luxury villa. Such loan agreements force the financially already exhausted nations into a social offside. Politicians and economists in northern industrialised countries make it too easy for themselves, to blame Latin America as the so-called „developing world“ for poverty and misery because of „mismanagement“ and „bad planning“. The transfer of capital from the south to the north for the repayment of a „debt“, which has long been paid, thus corresponds to a transfer of debt and responsibility from the north to the south! „Oh, those lazy southerners. They have to blame themselves for the desolate economic situation.“ Europeans and North Americans often react with such comments. Just like the brutality of the Conquista, today the unjustified and deliberately maintained external debt is a global scandal. Nothing will change as long as pre-eminent industrialised nations hold humble dependency on other countries. „With sword and cross“ became the standard word to describe the invasion of the Europeans into the living and cultural space of the natives. However, the sword was not used, no. The Aztecs, Maya and Inca and all other peoples were struck down with firearms. Gunpowder had long been known in Europe, and so the Europeans were superior to Indians, who were armed – if at all – only with bows and arrows. Today, the weapon business is thriving. Weapons have to be sold and the third world countries are wonderful sales markets for the industrial nations, which benefit from this. The largest „lenders“ (US, Japan, Canada, Germany and Sweden) plan to grant development aid only under certain conditions. Lending and debt restructuring should be made dependent on savings in the arms budget. Citizens in donor countries are thus applauding. In this sham politics, appearance and reality are far apart. The big business for the donor countries is the production and selling of weapons. Apart from agricultural products, no other product is subsidized so highly like weapons. The funds for „development aid“ on the other hand are ridiculous amounts. In short, the northern industrialised countries are calling for disarmament and determining criteria for financial support to these countries. But even they do not stop them from maintaining their worldwide military potential. Outwardly, to inform the staid citizen, the plea against the shooting-dead-business. Under the table – in reality – the cards are totally exchanged. Ultimately, these same governments are primarily responsible not only for building up rapid reaction forces – for their own strategic reasons – but also for continuously expanding and improving the arsenal of third world countries, which is further enhanced by the variety of export promotion. Pharisaism, pure hypocrisy! The word of Jesus is still current: „Woe to you, you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like the graves that are painted white on the outside and look beautiful, but inside they are full of dirt an decay.“
To live and proclaim the Christian message in a certificate way!
When Pope John Paul II visited Peru, he received a very embarrassing open letter for him and the Catholic Church, which was signed by several Indian organisations. It said: „We, the Indians of the American Andes, have decided to use the Pope’s visit to return his bible to him, for in five centuries she has brought us neither love nor peace nor justice.“ This, no doubt hard words are challenging for the church and require an answer. Basically, it’s not about giving back, it’s about appropriating the bible in its own culture, what has never been allowed to Indian tribes. It is not the message of the bible that is a problem, but the way it has been interpreted and is still partially interpreted and proclaimed today. It was not the gospel that gave offense, but the garment in which it was presented. Perhaps it is precisely the Indians who have the missionary task of finally liberating the church from colonialist posturing, making it really „catholic“ so that it can become credible again and radiate hope. Ultimately, it is about the Christian message to live and proclaim. Medellin and Puebla inspired the Latin American churches to give up all complicity with the colonial and neocolonial powers and become churches of the poor and oppressed. An new Pentecost occurred. The liberating dimension of faith came to fruition. The process of inculturation of the gospel began where the churches took the option for the poor seriously and did not spiritualise them. A new way of being a church was born of the faith of the people by the Spirit of God. A new, very specific presence of the Christian message in the midst of the poor people inspires the pastoral plans of the local churches. Poverty is no longer seen as a fate-related and therefore unavoidable situation, but its causes are called by name. Nation and international connections and networks are revealed. A church is born, based on the dialogue between faith and life, between gospel and justice. This new way of being a church also requires herders to be a new way of shepherding. This high priestly court ceremonial with rankings and reception and clothing regulations, which was developed over the centuries, resulted an ever-deepening divide between shepherd and herd. The bishop was not a brother, but „His Excellency“, „Your Grace“ or „Most Replendent Lord“. What does this have to do with the gospel? The gospel never wanted that pompous, oh so triumphal posturing. The gospel should finally set us back to scale and not human-created laws and norms of behaviour. Let us go back to „the sources of every Christian life and spirit of the origin“ of the gospel.
Back to love, to life – and the night will be over!
In the Church of Latin America, many religious, priests and bishops have already renounced privileges and change their location. They go to the poor and become lawyers for the suffering people. Much to the annoyance of the ruling elite, for centuries it has been accustomed to receive all backing and support from the church. Now politicians, landlords and military leaders are being held responsible by church officials for the acts of violence to the poor, Indians, blacks, women and children, that are increasingly falling victim. Bishops move from their palaces to the outskirts of the city, religious communities leave the noble districts and move into simple huts of favelas, in slums or Indian villages. They share distress and misery with the people living there and suddenly experience persecution and injustice on their own bodies. In concrete terms, they learn what it means to be humbled, kicked, shut out, abhorred, superfluous. Their fidelity to the gospel becomes an indispensable charge to those responsible for injustice and oppression.
I am convinced that the basic communities and shepherds of Latin America, whether these shepherds are now lay people, women and men, religious, priests or bishops, have the historic task of bringing the church back to its origins. It should be a Samaritan church in which are people and peoples help each other, take each other in consideration. Whole peoples lie on the wayside, wounded, abused, trampled like dung beetles. If the church is silent or passing by, she did not understand Jesus’ request. If she does not descend from the high steed and pour oil and wine into the wounds, she goes exactly the same way as the priest and Levite in the parable of Jesus. She is again complicit in the deaths of people and the extermination of peoples. The church must never be silent for diplomatic reasons. It does exactly what a Brazilian saying puts it: „At the same time, light an cancel to God and the devil.“Jesus founded a church of sisters and brothers to whom he gave the order: „Love each other as I have loved you.“ And he immediately adds, leaving no doubt about the extent and scope of love: „There is no greater love than giving life for someone else.“ For the church, the way to the „New World“ is a step back – back to the gospel! The evangelisation will only be really new if old deadlocked structures that are outdated and contradict the dream of Jesus are dismantled. The church must become more human, more Christian, as it has become in the grassroots communities in Latin America. To preach the gospel does not mean to impose a „depositum fidei“ as a tightly knit Western creed package on people in other cultures. To preach the gospel also does not mean to whirl the old Moral trough deafening, slaying every melody and harmony. To preach the gospel means to proclaim the resurrection of Christ in the face of countless crosses on the painful path of Latin America, which now takes more than 500 years, the „last glorious yes of God to the new man“, the yes of God to life. Then the sun of Easter morning will finally break through the heavy clouds of a cruel history. And the night will be over.
„God is love, love is God!“„Love others like you love yourself!“
„Realize God inside yourself and in others!“