Rodrigo GuerraOnly what is assumed is redeemed".

"The social sciences become victims of themselves when they absolutize a fragment and turn it into a supreme hermeneutic criterion," says Rodrigo Guerra, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, in this interview.

Maria José Atienza-September 12, 2022-Reading time: 8 minutes
rodrigo guerra

Rodrigo Guerra. Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America ©Courtesy of Rodrigo Guerra

Rodrigo Guerra holds a doctorate in philosophy from the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein, is founder of the Center for Advanced Social Research (CISAV, Mexico) and Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

A few weeks ago, Guerra was one of the speakers at the I International Hispano-American Congress organized by UNIR and the UFV. At that meeting, Guerra recalled that "Latin American culture has a non-rationalist substratum, based on the Catholic faith, which defends the dignity of the person". In this interview with Omnes, he talks about this basic substratum of Latin American culture.

For some time now, we have been witnessing a vindication of pre-Columbian cultures that accuse the missionaries of eliminating / wiping out a previous culture or social systems in order to impose "the Christian and Europeanist vision". Is this statement true?

- Contemporary historiography is managing to overcome the ideological simplifications of yesteryear. For example, those that were spread around 1992, on the occasion of the V Centenary of the discovery of America. Both the "black legend" and the "pink legend" are the fruit of a univocal rationality that denies the analogical "ethos" of Latin American baroque culture.

Without analogy, there are no fine nuances, there is no analytical and differentiated understanding of a complex process, such as the arrival of European peoples to America.

On the other hand, something that beyond the academic controversies, always helps to look at things with a greater perspective, is the guadalupano event. The rationality introduced by St. Mary of Guadalupe is the one that allows miscegenation, the inculturation of the Gospel and the decisive option for the poorest. This logic, undoubtedly, compensates the military perspective of the conquerors and opens an original way of evangelization for the missionaries, starting in 1531. Pre-Hispanic cultures were undoubtedly harmed. The Spanish crown, for example, had no elements to announce the cross, except through the sword. European diseases also decimated the population. But the experience of the encounter with a motherhood coming from heaven, which announces the "most true God for Whom one lives", generated a sociologically identifiable originality. It generated a new people: Latin America, the "Patria grande", the unique fraternity that allows an Argentine and a Mexican to recognize each other as "brothers", in spite of the distance.

The Church has asked for forgiveness for historical errors committed, not only in Latin America but in other places as well. Would this request for forgiveness be necessary if the facts were contextualized in each period?

- Faith in Jesus Christ unites us all. Not only synchronically but diachronically. For this reason, we are mysteriously in solidarity with the sins committed in the past by some Catholics, and for this reason, today we must all relearn to ask for forgiveness. It is not only the Pope who must do so. It is I, in the first person, who must reconcile myself with my history.

The unity of peoples is not the unity of ideologies, of political power or of the market. The unity of peoples is reconciled plurality, it is an empirical experience of re-encounter and embrace, thanks to which it is possible to continue walking. When a nation does not mourn its mistakes, neither will it find a way to rejoice in its victories. That is why the message of the gospel is so important.

Only from Christ, people and cultures can overcome easy antagonism, fanatical radicalism and social fracture.

Is history betrayed when viewed through the paradigms of the present?

- The science and art of interpreting history is a complex exercise. Every hermeneutic act requires not only fine-tuned theoretical tools -such as analogy- but also the exercise of virtues, especially prudence. Prudence allows us to recognize the finite as finite and the transcendent as transcendent simultaneously on the plane of the practical.

In other words: history is betrayed when it is seen as a mere empirical phenomenon that does not possess a metaphysical horizon. It is the metaphysical horizon that allows a double movement: on the one hand, to recognize the fact in its context, so as not to judge it from categories that may be improper to it, such as those coming from another epoch.

But, on the other hand, the metaphysical understanding of history also makes it possible to judge the fact in its meta-historical perspective. This perspective is not something "exogenous", but the ultimate meaning of the real-concrete that appears as a requirement if the totality of the factors of the real are taken in.

In the school of thought from which yours truly comes, the metahistorical understanding of a fact practically coincides with the perennial demands of an integral anthropology, which, in looking at the person as "the most perfect of nature", also understands him as the most singular, and therefore, as the most "historical".

I understand that it is fashionable to speak of "paradigms". However, the paradigms of the times are not the ultimate horizon of intelligence. If they were, we would be in an insurmountable prison which, among other things, would impede historical progress. The real horizon of human intelligence is reached when the person is educated in non-censorship, in maximum realism, in openness to the possibility of a gift that exceeds our own pre-judgments and surprises us. Nothing more current than Gregory of Nyssa, when he says: "Only amazement knows".

Do we suffer from a kind of fear, on the one hand, or hyperesthesia in the face of any comment that could be labeled "colonialist"? Have we in the Church also fallen into a reductionist attitude with respect to our history of propagating the faith?

- The contemporary denunciation, in certain schools, of a "colonial" thought that imposes itself from the logic of the master and the slave, shows how indebted we are to Hegel today. The "decolonial" perspective, on the other hand, vindicates situated knowledge and the desire to dismantle the dense Eurocentrism that exists in some environments. When these issues are approached without clearly identifying their Hegelian heritage, and therefore their immanentist limitation, they easily become discursive traps. Many premises are accepted from the outset that need to be critically analyzed.

This is not the place to do this exercise. I simply dare to say that the social sciences, on many occasions, become victims of themselves, when they absolutize a fragment and turn it into a supreme hermeneutic criterion. Today we need a more holistic perspective in order not to betray reality. I share the need to think-in-context. I share the need to denounce the perverse instrumental rationality. I agree that there are still subtle and not so subtle mechanisms of colonization, for example, in Latin America. But also, along with all this, I am convinced that we are called to something more.

It is only possible to speak of the strength of the context and the importance of "the situated" from a higher parameter that exceeds them. If we do not do so, even our own affirmation of the importance of the contextual will have to be contextualized, and so on, in an endless process.

In the Church we also easily fall into socio-analytical "fashions", explicitly or covertly. But it is precisely in the experience that we call "Church", not in its concept, not in its theory, but in the "experience" of empirical friendship that is the "Ekklesia" where I learned to love my people, my history, with all its wounds of "colonial" origin, and to discover that the master-slave dialectic does not have the last word. Reality has tensions, some of them very painful, but the true overcoming of them, the true "Aufhebung", is achieved by seeking a superior synthesis under the logic of the extreme gift, that is to say, under the re-encounter with the essential-Christian. This is why it is important to read Romano Guardini and Gaston Fessard. For this reason, among others, we must allow ourselves to be educated by Pope Francis.

Experience shows that the good news of the Gospel, lived in communion, is a source of renewed humanity, that is to say, of true development.

Rodrigo Guerra. Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America

Did faith really contribute to the development of the peoples of the Americas?

- North America consists of Canada, the United States and Mexico. Central America ranges from Guatemala to Panama. South America ranges from Colombia to Patagonia. In South America, and in general, in the entire Latin American region, since 1531 faith has been the most important factor of liberation and struggle for the dignity of all, especially the last and the excluded.

Those who seek to maintain that faith has not contributed to the development and emancipation of Latin America are heirs of the old enlightenment and the old theories of secularization. The latter, by the way, did not come true in Latin America, as even the most absent-minded observer can attest on any December 12 at Tepeyac.

Those who currently think that faith has not contributed to the development of Latin America would do well to meditate carefully on the "Nican Mopohua"; the work of Vasco de Quiroga; the arguments of Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria in favor of the equal human dignity of the indigenous people; the very rich viceregal culture; and, very especially, the Latin American baroque, for example, in Puebla, Peru or Ecuador. There is nothing better to break illuminism than to make a pilgrimage on foot for weeks to some Marian shrine with our poor people, to visit the Jesuit reductions in Uruguay, to live the experience of a popular festival in Nicaragua, to read aloud Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, to kneel at the tomb of Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador, or to carry the coffins of two elderly Jesuits recently murdered by organized crime in the Sierra Tarahumara.

Beyond theories and discourses, it is in experience that we can see that the good news of the Gospel, lived in communion, is a source of renewed humanity, that is, of true development.

If we look at many of the Ibero-American cultural traditions, we realize that the Christian faith joined previous traditions, contributing to their validity. Is South America an example of inculturation of faith?

- South America, Central America and Mexico are good examples of inculturated evangelization and inculturation of the Gospel. In each country there is a different modulation. But in all of them, some degree of inculturation is recognizable. However, the most adequate word to describe this phenomenon is not "union" between Christian faith and "previous traditions" but "incarnation".

In the mystery of the Incarnation, everything human is assumed, because only what is assumed is redeemed. The "analogy of the Incarnation," as St. John Paul II said, is what guides an adequate relationship between the Christian faith and cultures. Only in this way is there no destruction, but a patient and tender embrace. An embrace that assumes all pre-Hispanic signs and languages, in order to purify and elevate them through grace.

The logic of destruction is not part of the Christian proclamation. Someone once said to me: "but sin must be destroyed". In fact, indigenous sin and European sin must be "destroyed" with the mercy and tenderness that come from the heart of Jesus. It is mercy that "extirpates" sin. Never the annihilation of the other. It is God's mercy that saves. Anything else is violent Pelagianism. To evangelize in a radically inculturated way is at the heart of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego.

¿How do you experience, from an American and Catholic perspective, the process of de-Christianization that is taking place in many places?

- In small neoconservative circles, de-Christianization is seen in terms of civilizational collapse. At various moments in the history of the Latin American Church, the conservative reduction of Christianity to moral norms has provoked erroneous diagnoses of the cultural crisis. Symmetrically, as in a mirror, the de-Christianization seen from progressive groups is celebrated with joy. The reduction of Christianity to the "ideology of common values" also leads to misdiagnoses about the challenge of the present moment. The identification of the progress of the kingdom of God with the apparent "progress" of contemporary relativistic society ends up affirming that true Christianity is that of secularized, purely "humanist" communities.

De-Christianization exists more because of the weakness of those of us who prefer a bourgeois Christianity, accustomed to exist within a comfort zone, than because of the "perversity" and "strategy" of anti-Christian tendencies.

Rodrigo Guerra. Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America

Both positions are a serious mistake. Neoconservatives and progressives, apparently opposed, are children of the same illuminist matrix. The theological reading of history made by the Latin American bishops from the II General Conference of the Episcopate (Medellin, 1968) to the V General Conference held in Aparecida (2007), is diverse. The processes of de-Christianization coexist with new searches that mean that the human heart continues to yearn for a fullness of truth, goodness, beauty and justice that only Christ can fulfill and surpass. Let me put it another way: the Latin American Church is the daughter of the Second Vatican Council. In the Council there is full awareness of the drama of our times. But this drama is not faced with fear of the world, nor with naive approval of its "worldly" inertia.

The "de-Christianization" of persons, families and societies is more than an "enemy", it is an "opportunity" to repropose with vitality an empirical, experiential, sacramental Christianity, not reactionary, but communitarian and missionary. For this, it is necessary, curiously, to love the world passionately. Not in order to overlap its deviations. But to embrace it and recognize that in it always dwell and will dwell motions of the Holy Spirit that precede us in the missionary dynamism.

In other words: de-Christianization exists more because of the weakness of those of us who prefer a bourgeois Christianity, accustomed to exist within a comfort zone, than because of the "perversity" and "strategy" of anti-Christian tendencies. This is why it is so opportune to listen to Pope Francis when he speaks to us of the "Church going out", turned to mission, not to reaction. She is turned to the peripheries, that is to say, to the extreme zones, full of risks, but in need of Christ.

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