Indigenous Catholicisms and the Second Vatican Council

AHA Session 213
Conference on Latin American History 44
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Albert Monshan Wu, American University of Paris
Albert Monshan Wu, American University of Paris

Session Abstract

This panel presents three case studies of innovative global Catholicism during and following the Second Vatican Council. The papers look beyond the well-known centers of Church power and progressive Catholicism to highlight unexpected contributions and responses to Vatican II. From French sub-Saharan Africa to rural Mexico and Peru, indigenous Catholics created, shared, and accommodated new ways of being religious in a world shaken by decolonization and revolution.

These studies reveal earnest attempts by Catholics to “indigenize” the Church. Laypeople, priests, nuns, and foreign missionaries dreamt of transforming the Church’s rigid power structures into social movements responsive to local variations of culture, language, and labor conditions. These projects, however, often stood at odds with local popular Catholicism. At the same time, Catholic activists crossed frontiers and oceans, building transnational links across the Global South. A Senegalese convert from Islam influenced French Catholic thought. Quechua-speaking peasants from Lake Titicaca flew to Cameroon to meet with Catholic peasants from Asia and Africa. Pastoral agents organized frequently beyond the purview of the hierarchy, arguing for the compatibility of Catholicism and anti-imperialist third world solidarities.

These innovations met with general disapproval from Rome. If the Second Vatican Council did indeed begin to incorporate marginalized Catholic voices and visions from around the world, the conservative swing under the Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) sought to roll back the most progressive projects that had flourished in the wake of Vatican II. Such conflicts illuminate the multitude of voices reverberating locally, nationally, and transnationally that advanced competing visions of what Catholicism meant and what it could be. Indigenous Catholics asserted their loyalty to the Catholic Church while at the same time building alternative visions of being Catholic and crafting south-to-south collaborations that challenged the doctrinal and pastoral hegemony of the Vatican. The projects and processes examined in this panel take us beyond regional and continental boundaries that so often limit histories of the Church, forcing us to rethink the centers of intellectual, theological, and pastoral production within the Catholic world.

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