Indigenous positions before Pope Francis

Who blesses whom? The Pope blesses the Mapuche people or the Mapuche people blesses the Pope? Photo: The Roman Observer Who blesses whom? The Pope blesses the Mapuche people or the Mapuche people blesses the Pope? Photo: The Roman Observer

By Jorge Agurto

Servindi, January 17, 2018. - A few hours after Pope Francis began his journey through Chile and Peru and made direct contact with native populations, he faces three indigenous positions, which could be roughly described as: the "Docile", the "Negotiating" and the "Rebellious".

For didactic purposes, the classification of the positions is made in order to clarify the differences. It is not that there is a docile position or a 100% rebellious one. In some way, everyone has a negotiation profile to a greater or lesser degree.

The idea is to recognize political positions against Pope Francis from the perspective of strengthening the indigenous peoples’ agenda. This would be the classification criteria.

The Docile Position

The visit of the Supreme Pontiff is a great blessing for this position, it is something we should be grateful for. His sole presence in the country should reward us greatly.

From this perspective we must avoid any action that contradicts the designs of the Catholic Church or its local operators. We must not disturb the spiritual climate of dialogue and peace that Pope Francis brings with shameful memories of an atrocious past or with exalted demands or proclamations.

The Catholic Church has a history of privileging this type of interlocutors, which is why it reviews and approves the discourse of those who are going to address it. This happened in Colombia, during the visit of John Paul II and that caused an awkward moment when the indigenous representative didn’t follow the script. But that is another story. (1)

The Negotiating Position

A good example of a negotiating position is the one expressed by Roberto Espinoza, advisor to the Amazonian indigenous movement in Peru, who recently wrote the article: “Crisis civilizatoria, Ambición Climática y “Laudato Si”, (Civilizatory crisis, climatic ambition and Laudato si) (2), highly recommended for the current context.

Espinoza is part of an assessment of what Pope Francis and his encyclical Laudato si represent, which breaks down favorable content to indigenous and environmental positions. It values ​​the context in which it was launched and what it represented as a tool to fight in the midst of the climate crisis.

The negotiating position is summarized in that it challenges the pope to deepen his commitment and, in particular, his defense of the positions of the indigenous peoples, who are the social actors with the greatest climatic ambition because they seek to meet and increase the goals to reduce the emissions of gases that generate global warming.

This is why, he invites him to support the agenda and the proposals of the indigenous peoples at the United Nations and provides key elements to express and assume this commitment. 

The Rebellious Position

The rebellious position comes from a more historical and holistic view of the presence of the Catholic Church in the continent. It is very aware of the lacerations produced by the bloody Spanish conquest that was accompanied by the Church.

It does not forget that since then, the systematic dispossession of the indigenous peoples’ lands and a colonization that in many areas where it is still going on, and that, on the contrary, is replayed daily in the social and mental structures of our societies that still carry a heavy colonial heritage.

The rebellious position has different expressions and nuances.

There are those who ask that Pope Francis recants or rejects the "Doctrine of Discovery" which, on the basis of Papal bulls, legitimized the dispossession of the lands from native peoples (3). There are also more extreme attitudes like those of some groups that outright reject the presence of the Pope and others who have vandalized the facades of Catholic churches in Chile, something that has not been seen in Peru.

In Summary

The presence of Pope Francis represents a political event of the greatest magnitude in a context of moral, social and political crisis. It represents a very large, powerful institution with strong internal tensions. But it would be shortsighted not to recognize that it represents a reformist trend within the Church that for example, in Peru, has semi-fascist expressions such as those represented by Opus Dei and Bishop Cipriani.

Similarly, in an offense context from the Evangelical Churches politically allied with Fujimori, a refreshing air in the Catholic Church would give a little freshness and could undermine or weaken retrograde positions that have become very active as those represented in the movements against the supposed "gender ideology" or "con mis hijos no te metas" (do not mess with my children).

It is true that there is still a lot to be discussed on this issue and if we stick to the conceptions of indigenous peoples, they have the right to their own forms of spirituality and worldview. However, we do not live in a bubble separated from daily life, and we cannot be indifferent to the events which demand that we take a stand.

Hopefully, each leader, spokesperson or indigenous representative will look in the mirror and define the position or attitude that best favors the interests of their peoples without giving up their principles and seeking the greatest effectiveness that the conditions allow. Amen.


(1) See: Mi experiencia con el Papa. Testimonio vivo y actual de un indígena nasa (My experience with the Pope. Living and current testimony of a Nasa indigenous):

(2) See: “Crisis civilizatoria, Ambición Climática y “Laudato Si” (Civilizatory crisis, climatic ambition and Laudato si), in:

(3) See: Piden al Papa Francisco renunciar a la Doctrina del Descubrimiento (Pope Francis asked to reject the Doctrine of Discovery), in: also: "El Papa Francisco y la “doctrina del descubrimiento” (Pope Francis and the "Doctrine of Discovery") in:

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