SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (AP) — Pope Francis apologized for the sins and “offenses” committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.
History’s first Latin American pope “humbly” begged forgiveness during an encounter in Bolivia with indigenous groups and other activists and in the presence of Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.
Francis noted that Latin American church leaders in the past had acknowledged “grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.” St. John Paul II, for his part, apologized to the continent’s indigenous for the “pain and suffering” caused during the 500 years of the church’s presence on the continent during a 1992 visit to the Dominican Republic.
But Francis went farther.
“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” he said to applause and cheers from the crowd.
Earlier in the day, Francis denounced the “throwaway” culture of today’s society that discards anyone who is unproductive as he celebrated his first public Mass in Bolivia.
The government declared a national holiday so workers and students could attend the Mass, which featured prayers in Guarani and Aimara, two of Bolivia’s indigenous languages, and an altar carved from wood by artisans of the Chiquitano people.
In a blending of the native and new, the famously unpretentious pope changed into his vestments for the Mass in a nearby Burger King.
Speaking to the crowd in South America’s poorest country, Francis decried the prevailing mentality of the world economy where so many people are “discarded” today — the poor, the elderly, those who are unproductive.
“It is a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable,” he said. “This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.”