The Jesuits in Latin America, 1549-2000: 450 Years of Inculturation, Defense of Human Rights, and Prophetic Witness

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The Jesuits in Latin America, 1549-2000: 450 Years of Inculturation, Defense of Human Rights, and Prophetic Witness. By Jeffrey L. Klaiber. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009. Pp. viii, 463. Paperback $28.95.

Jeffrey Klaiber's history of the Jesuits in Latin America emphasizes inculturation, the defense of marginalized groups, and creative adaptability. These three themes serve him well in explaining the Jesuits' spectacular successes during the colonial period. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuits founded dozens of missions in what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay which eventually functioned as quasi-independent indigenous republics for 180,000 Indians. Despite constant threats from Spanish and Portuguese colonists who wanted to enslave the mission Indians and to steal their land, the Jesuits managed to foster prosperous, culturally rich Christian societies that featured vernacular music, drama, and catechesis and that defended themselves with their own militias. Klaiber 's three themes also apply well to the twentieth century, when Jesuits played a leading role in defending the rights of workers, peasants, and indigenous groups. Priests such as Miguel Pro (Mexico) and Ignacio Ellacuría (El Salvador) gave their lives in the defense of the poor and oppressed in situations of grave injustice, while many other Jesuits such as Juan Luis Segundo and Jon Sobrino played leading roles in the development of liberation theology. …