ROME — Many missionaries in Latin America are still living in the 1970s, a papal appointee to the Vatican Synod on the Amazon said Wednesday, as if Marxist class struggle were more important than the gospel message.
Speaking with Crux, an online Catholic news outlet, Salesian Father Martin Lasarte said there are many missionaries who are “left-wing conservatives,” meaning that they cling to leftist ideas that were popular many decades ago as if they still held relevance today.
The Uruguayan priest said that “there’s a sector of the local church that is still in the 1970s, with class struggle, a church that goes to the poor. These are valid elements, but that cannot be all.”
Because of an overemphasis on outreach to the poor, evangelization has been neglected, the priest lamented.
While a focus on the poor in Latin America may have been “prophetic” at the time, there are bigger issues to deal with today, he noted.
“The fundamental thing is missing: the first proclamation [of the Gospel],” he said.
“The love for the poor and a social commitment are consequences of the faith,” he said. “But the most important thing, the transmission of the faith, has been interrupted. We live in a different world than the 1970s, and we cannot continue to have the proposals of 1970.”
The overly simplistic categories applied to Latin America through the influence of Marxism do not capture the complex realities in play today, he suggested.
Many in the Church see the reality of Latin America just in terms of “rich and poor,” he said, when the reality is more nuanced.
“There are rich and poor, yes, but also men and women, indigenous peoples who live in the Andes, those who live in the Amazon, and there’s an important Afro-descendant culture,” he said.
The priest also criticized what he considers an overemphasis on the issue of priestly celibacy in the Vatican synod hall, arguing that it is not a matter for just one region to decide.
The question of priestly celibacy is “not pertinent to this synod,” he said, because it is “a very rich issue for the whole Church, and it cannot be decided by only one region.”
“We’re talking about the importance of a synodal conversion,” he added. “Well, if we’re going to discuss this issue, let’s ask our brothers from Congo what they think about it, those from Mexico, from Vietnam, from Argentina, from the Far East.”
Evangelization is at the heart of missionary work, the priest explained, but in many places it has been abandoned and replaced by other concerns.
Some bought into the myth that “evangelization destroys cultures” and is “anthropologically negative,” Lasarte said. As a result, many within the Catholic Church gave up evangelization altogether, convinced that “giving witness is enough.”
This was a big mistake, Lasarte said.
“Pope Paul VI says in Evangelii Nuntandi that evangelization requires the explicit announcement of the Word, the doctrine, Christ,” he said. “Witness and service are central, but so is proclamation.”
“We are afraid of speaking about Jesus Christ, in fear of offending others,” he said.