La Tin American Theology

Today we can indeed talk about a "Latin American" theology, a theology which contemplates our own peculiar reality here. I should like to mention a few factors in the rise of that theology, which did not take place all at once.

CELAM (the Latin American Episcopal Conference) certainly had a great deal to do with it. In the process of coordinating activities in all the countries of Latin America, it brought home to us the fact that we are part of a broad socio-cultural grouping. It thus helped us to look for solutions on the continental level.

The first steps involved sociological descriptions, such as those done by FERES (International Federation for Studies in Religious Sociology). They were under the direction of the Belgian priest, Fransois Houtart. Then came economic studies from the Center for Economic and Social Development in Latin America, and other social studies by ILADES (Instituto Latinoamericano de Doctrina y Estudios Sociales). All these efforts helped to point up our sociological structures and their distinctiveness, but as yet theology had not truly entered the picture.

Thanks to CELAM, various institutes developed: for catechetics (ICLA), pastoral activity (IPLA), and liturgy. To provide information to the participants, these efforts started with certain common guidelines and tried to apply them to the overall Latin American situation. As time went on, something new developed out of this. In the beginning the best theology came from people who had studied in Europe and who more or less reiterated the European thinking of people like Karl Rahner and Yves Congar. It was found, however, that this thinking could not be applied directly to the concrete situation in Latin America. Some sort of a gap existed.

Slowly there dawned the realization that we Latin Ameri cans were the victims of cultural oppression. Our thinking was dependent on, and conditioned by, the thinking of people in a very different cultural situation. We could not in fact simply mimic the thinking of European theologians. We would have to start with our concrete situation in daily life and reflect on it theologically. It was this realization that helped to produce a truly Latin American approach to theology.

In an earlier chapter I mentioned Methol Ferre and his criticism of some of Cardinal Suenens' ideas. Suenens had voiced his own criticism of certain points in the papal encyclical Humanae vitae. Ferré criticized Suenens in turn because the Cardinal's ideas represented and defended the viewpoint of the economically affluent and culturally dominant nations. Ferre noted the fact that every theology implies some sort of politics, and that Suenens was, wittingly or unwittingly, defending the politics of the advanced nations. We Latin Americans, however, were much more interested in the universal aspect of the Roman Church than in the dominating viewpoint of certain nations within the Roman Church. Let us explore this whole notion of political conditioning a bit.

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