Panel of Theologians Talk Religion in Latin America

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Three stories, two languages, and one theological tradition were center stage in Robsham Theater on Wednesday night during the panel discussion “Toward an Ibero-American Theology.” Co-sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry, Office of the University President, Institute for the Liberal Arts, and the Boston College Department of Theology, Wednesday’s panel was part of a five day theological conference titled, “The Present and Future of an Ibero-American Theology in Times of Globalization, Interculturality, and Exclusion.”

The conference brought together more than forty Latin American, Spanish, and American theologians to discuss the present status of Latin American theology in a globalized world. The panel’s focus was the role of liberation theology in past, present, and future.

Thomas H. Groome, professor of theology and religious education in the School of Theology and Ministry, moderated the panel.

“This is a historic moment [for Catholic theology],” Groome said. “Liberation theology, the stone which the builders first rejected, has now become the cornerstone.

Liberation theology is rooted in late 20th-century Roman Catholicism. These theologians believe that God speaks particularly through the poor. They stress a heightened awareness of the “sinful” socioeconomic structures that initiate social inequities and actively participate in changing those structures through political activism and social reform. Originally centered in Latin America, liberation theology developed into a means for Catholics to apply their faith by aiding the poor and oppressed.

Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, S.J., one of the founders of the liberation theology movement, began the panel discussion.

Scannone was born and raised in Argentina but received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Munich in Germany. When he returned to Argentina, he came into contact with the concepts that ground liberation theology, specifically under the instruction of theologian Lucio Gera.

Scannone’s student and friend, Father Jorge Bergoglio—better known today as Pope Francis—encouraged him to attend the conference in the first place.

“That event changed my entire life,” Scannone said.

At the conference, he met Gustavo Gutiérrez, a founder of liberation theology who introduced the preferential option for the poor to Catholic social teaching. Both Scannone and Gutiérrez realized “la importancia es en el diálogo,” or “the importance is in the dialogue.” From there, liberation theology began to spread across the globe.

Rev. Carlos María Galli, S.T.D., a priest from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and a close theological adviser to Pope Francis, wrote his original dissertation in theology about the relations between the people of God and the people of the world.

“Today, Pope Francis uses the same words without citing him,” Scannone said. “He is calling for a dialogue between the people of God and the people of the earth.”

The initiation of dialogue between the “people of God” and “people of earth” aims to bridge the gap between abstract theological discourse and the practical application of religious teachings—a mission at the core of liberation theology. Scannone emphasized that the people of earth includes the indigenous peoples of Latin America as well.

In many ways, Olga Consuelo, professor of theology at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia, is a product of Scannone’s pedagogy and dedication to the liberation theology movement. During her undergraduate and doctoral studies, Consuelo studied Scannone’s work and was inspired to apply his message to her native country.

“As I advanced in my theology studies, Colombia was in the middle of an armed conflict,” Consuelo said. “This challenged the church and the larger society, and started a conversation in the church about social justice and the causes of poverty in the country.”

Because of the work of Scannone, Gutierrez, Gueras, and more liberation theologians, Consuelo was able to apply the practices of liberation theology to her home

Additionally, Rev. Roberto Tomichá, O.F.M., professor at the Latin American Institute of Missiology in Bolivia has translated the teachings of liberation theology to the indigenous populations in Bolivia.

Tomichá is of the indigenous Chiquitano Bolivian group, one of the nation’s thirty-six different indigenous peoples. He comes from a very humble family, and was introduced to the Catholic religious order through Polish missionaries in Bolivia.

Eventually, Tomichá traveled to Buenos Aires and learned the teachings and practices of liberation theology. After three years in Argentina, Tomichá returned to Bolivia and spread the message of liberation theology.

“I realized that the vision of liberation theology was of a God who walked with the people,” he said.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor