Vatican City, Oct 10, 2019 / 11:10 am (CNA).- Bishop Wilmar Santin of Itabituba, Brazil said Thursday that the Church has worked to eradicate the practice of tribal infanticide in the Amazon, and compared the practice to the moral evil of abortion.
The bishop said that the Munduruku tribe, resident in his Amazon River basin diocese, were traditionally a warring people, who cut off the heads of their enemies to carry as trophies, and left babies born with disabilities to die.
Santin said that the religious women working as nurses and teachers among the Munduruku tribe also worked to slowly eradicate the practice among the tribe which formerly performed infanticide on the disabled, twins, and the children of unwed mothers.
“Listening to this, we can be amazed. How can they perform such an atrocity … But what about the abortions they do here in civilization? How many?” the bishop of Itabituba asked at a Vatican press conference Oct. 10.
The press conference took place during the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the region.
The question of infanticide was first raised Oct. 8 by Swiss journalist Giuseppe Rusconi, who asked about the content of the synod’s Instrumentum laboris, or working document. He said the document lauded indigenous peoples’ “primitive purity and exalted their harmonious relationship with nature.”
Rusconi mentioned that he had read reports of indigenous groups in the Amazon region that engage in the practice of infanticide.
Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimenez, vice-president of the pan-Amazonian ecclesial network and co-president of the synod, responded: “I have never heard of it,” adding, “those who make such statements must present documentary evidence.”
At the synod press conference Oct. 10, the apostolic vicar of Mitu, Colombia, Bishop Medardo de Jesús Henao Del Río, described the historical practice of infanticide among the indigenous population in Vaupés, Colombia before the arrival of Catholic missionaries.
He said before missionaries arrived to his area in 1914, twins and children with deformities were sometimes left to be eaten by animals. “Then the church arrived … they set up shelters for these children,” he said.
Today Rio says that he has seen both children with Down syndrome and sets of twins living among the tribes, welcomed by the community. In some parts of the Amazon, the practice of infanticide remains a social problem. In 2018, Foreign Policy reported that experts in Brazil, including the country’s National Indian Foundation, acknowledge that infanticide takes place among some indigeneous groups, but is in decline.
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, himself a co-author of the synod’s working document, acknowledged in 2009 that “among some few tribes of the Brazilian Indios, there still exists the cultural institution of infanticide.”
Rio said that one cannot make sacred every aspect of indigenous culture, but that there should be an effort made to incorporate elements from the local cultures that “carry the seeds of God.”
“It is not mixing, it is assimilating certain values that the indigenous community has that go in common with Christian values. We cannot sacralize everything indigenous, nor demonize it. We must make a study of all their myths, what does the rite mean,” Rio said.
“It is not to say that we take everything indigenous to assimilate to the Christian,” Rio added.
At the same press conference, Santin also echoed this point in describing the experience of the Munduruku tribe with the growing Pentecostal church in the region. The bishop said that local indigenous had told him that some local pastors have been very aggressive against the local culture, forbidding them to speak their own language or paint their bodies.
He described how in comparison with the growing Pentecostal church, the Catholic Church’s grown in the region has been slow.
“We have to make sure that our mission is something we can carry out in a much more effective way,” Santin said.
The Synod of Bishops broke into smaller language groups, or circoli minori, for further discussion on Oct. 10, which will convene again on Oct. 11, 16, and 17. There are five Spanish language groups, two Italian, two Portuguese, and one English/French group.
The last week of the synod will be devoted entirely to discussing the synod’s final document of reccomendations to Pope Francis, which will be voted upon on the afternoon of Oct. 26.
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