Third World Catholicism—How Stable?
By Awake! correspondent in Mexico
“ALL CHRISTIANS are disciples of a political prisoner who had been assassinated on the cross.” ‘Pope John Paul II is the most political pope we’ve ever seen!’ “It is impossible to live our faith in isolation from politics.” These are but a few of the many controversial statements that were made by Catholic theologians at a forum held in Mexico City in December 1986.
At the same meeting, there were those in the audience who did not agree with the speakers. Some began shouting in defense of the Catholic Church, while others supported the visiting theologians. Still others were speechless—confused by the lack of unity. Interrupting this disturbance, South African priest Bonganjalo Goba cried out: “Brothers, it looks as if we have a struggle of Catholics against Catholics!”
Why had such a scene taken place? What was the quarrel about?
The subject under discussion was the practice of liberation theology—a struggle, backed by priests and theologians worldwide, to free the poor and oppressed people of Third World nations from “the socio-economical mechanisms that produce wealth at the expense of the poor.”
Although some call it radical or revolutionary, others refer to it as a ‘new expression of the Roman Catholic Church.’ At the second Latin American Bishops’ Conference, in Medellín, Colombia (1968), it was declared that the suffering of the people in Third World nations is caused by “structural sin” and that, to follow Christ, the church must exercise “a preferential option for the poor.” But what may this entail?
Brazilian Catholic priest Leonardo Boff warns, as reported by a Mexico City newspaper, that “if an undivided society is not reached, the alternative is violence” and that it is “justifiable when fundamental rights are violated.” Yes, Boff, along with other advocates of liberation theology throughout Third World nations, believes that terrorism, revolutions, and war may be necessary to relieve the poor of their “misery.”
However, as Newsweek magazine reports, “liberation theology has a powerful ability to pit Roman Catholics against one another.” This was evident at the meeting held in Mexico City. But what do you believe? Is liberation theology the answer? And whether you are a sincere Catholic or of another faith, how can knowledge of Third World trends in the Catholic Church benefit you?