Conference of Latin American Bishops


Conference of Latin American Bishops

The Conference of Latin American Bishops was a bishops conference held in 1968 in Medellín, Colombia. In this conference the bishops agreed that the church should take "a preferential option for the poor." The bishops decided to form Christian "base communities" in which they would teach the poor how to read by using the Bible. The goal of the bishops was to liberate the people from the "institutionalized violence" of poverty. They informed the people that poverty and hunger were preventable.

The movement drew on the influence of Paulo Freire, widely regarded as the greatest literacy teacher of the region, along with Father Camilo Torres and Bartolomé de Las Casas. It allowed for the poor to object to the hegemony and hierarchy they had been subjected to for the past centuries. Instead of accepting only what they were given, the people could now demand more, like soup kitchens, day care, co-ops, neighborhood organizations, higher wages, and better medical care. The bishops and nuns that took part in this effort were hoping that the "religious fervor" of the region would help make the result extremely powerful. They felt that the poor were the blessed people and that the church has a duty to help them.

The movement eventually became known as "liberation theology" and because it opposed the system, it stirred up support as well as opposition, sometimes violent. A lot of people, mainly from conservatives and the wealthy who benefited from the status quo, called this theology Marxist. With that determined, the conservatives within the Vatican threw the entire power of the Catholic Church against it. Pope John Paul II, a staunch opponent of Communism, started a campaign in the 1970s that would overthrow "liberation theology" by systematically appointing bishops in Latin America that were hostile towards it. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was in charge of enforcing doctrine which largely opposed the theological interpretations and actions of these Latin American religious. Later in 1983, the Pope visited Nicaragua in order to show his opposition to the Sandinista revolutionary leaders, who were the "Catholic clergy and exponents of liberation theology." In the visit the Pope shouted "Silence!" three times at the Sandinista crowd when they heckled him; some interpreted this as symbolizing his "silencing" of the theology and those who supported it.

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