Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Indigenous Demand Revocation of 1493 Papal Bull

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Indigenous Demand Revocation of 1493 Papal Bull

Article excerpt

It was scripted as a moment of high drama. In the fading twilight of Oct. 12, a spokesperson for a delegation of indigenous persons from the Americas approached a Swiss Guard in St. Peter's Square and handed him a document for the pope. It was a copy of the 1493 papal bull Inter Caetera urging that the "barbarous nations" of the New World "be overthrown and brought to the faith."

"On the part of indigenous persons throughout the world, we call on the pope to formally revoke this, which led to our subjugation in the name of Christianity," said Steve Newcomb, a member of the Shawnee and Lenape nations of North America. He asked the guard to inform the pope of their request, delivered on the 508th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean.

Then, as ears strained to pick up what could have been words of either defiance or understanding, the guard looked at the document, paused, and blankly replied: "Do you have an envelope?"

So it went for this quixotic band of nine native persons from Hawaii, Oregon and Puerto Rico, who made their way to Rome in mid-October. During their brief stay, Vatican officials were alternately elusive or befuddled in their dealings with this unusual pilgrimage.

The group sought to remind Catholic leaders of the record of conquest, disease and slavery in the Americas, sometimes justified in the name of Christianity. After contact with Spanish soldiers and missionaries in central Mexico, for example, the population plummeted from about 25 million in 1519 to about 1. …

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