Last week’s post examined the apostolic letter, In supremo apostolatus fastigio (At the summit of apostolic power), with which Pope Gregory XVI condemned slave trade. Today’s post examines the encyclical Lacrimabili Statu Indorum (the deplorable situation of the Indians), issued by Pope Pius X on 7 June, 1912, which he addressed to the bishops of Latin America on the Indians of South America.
The pope begins by recalling Immensa Pastorum, with which Pope Benedict XIV condemned slavery and cruelty towards the Indians. Next, the pope acknowledges that efforts have been made to stop the abuse.
“It is true that soon afterwards the worst of these indignities – that is to say, slavery, properly so called – was, by the goodness of the merciful God, abolished; and to this public abolition of slavery in Brazil and in other regions the excellent men who governed those Republics were greatly moved and encouraged by the maternal care and insistence of the Church. And we gladly acknowledge that if it had not been for many and great obstacles that stood in the way, their plans would have had far greater success” (1).
The pope admits that more needs to be done because crimes against the Indians were still ongoing.
“Nevertheless, though much has thus been done for the Indians, there is much more that still remains to be done. And, indeed, when we consider the crimes and outrages still committed against them, our heart is filled with horror, and we are moved to great compassion for its most unhappy race. For what can be so cruel and so barbarous as to scourge men and brand them with hot iron, often for most trivial causes, often for a mere lust of cruelty; or, having suddenly overthrown them, to slay hundreds or thousands in one unceasing massacre; or to waste villages and districts and slaughter the inhabitants, so that some tribes, as we understand, have become extinct in these last few years?” (1)
“The lust of lucre has done much to make the minds of men so barbarous. But something also is due to the nature of the climate and the situation of these regions. For, as these places are subjected to burning southern sun, which casts a languor into the veins and as it were, destroys the vigor of virtue, and as they are far removed from the habits of religion and the vigilance of the State, and in a measure even from civil society, it easily comes to pass that those who have not already come there with evil morals soon begin to be corrupted, and then, when all bonds of right and duty are broken, they fall away into all hateful vices. Nor in this do they take any pity on the weakness of sex or age, so that we are ashamed to mention the crimes and outrages they commit in seeking out and selling women and children, wherein it may be truly said that they have surpassed the worst examples of pagan iniquity” (2).
The pope admits that he initially doubted the news of these crimes.
“For our part, indeed, when reports of these things were first brought to us, we hesitated for some time to give credence to such atrocities, since they certainly seemed to be incredible. But after we had been assured by abundant witnesses – to wit, by many of yourselves, Venerable Brethren, by the Delegates of the Apostolic See, by the missioners, and by other men wholly worthy of belief – we can no longer have any doubt as to the truth of these statements” (3).
The pope emphasises the need for the Church to collaborate with the State to deal with the situation.
“Now, therefore, having pondered long on this matter, so that, as far as lies in our power, we may endeavor to remedy such great evils, with humble and suppliant prayer we beg of God that He may deign in His goodness to show us some opportune way of healing these wounds…Since, however, these regions are far from the seats of Government, and are for the most part not readily accessible, these human endeavors of the civil powers, whether from the craft of the criminals, who can speedily cross the frontiers, or through the inactivity or perfidy of the officials, often do little good, and sometimes come to nothing. But if the work of the Church is added to the work of the State, then at length the desired fruit shall be obtained in greater abundance” (4).
The pope exhorts the bishops to continue intervening in protecting and promoting the Indians.
“Wherefore, Venerable Brethren, we call upon you, before all others, to give special care and thought to this cause, which is in every way worthy of your pastoral office and duty. And leaving the rest to your solicitude and diligence, we particularly urge you to foster and promote all the good works instituted in your dioceses for the benefit of the Indians, and to see that other works likely to contribute to this end may be instituted. In the next place you will diligently admonish your flocks on their most sacred duty of helping religious missions to the natives who first inhabited the American soil. Let them know that they ought to help this work especially in two ways, to wit, by their gifts and by their prayers; and that it is not only their religion, but their country also, that asks this of them. Do you, moreover, take care that wheresoever moral instruction is given, in seminaries, in colleges, in convent schools, and more especially in the churches, Christian charity, which holds all men, without distinction of nation or color, as true brethren, shall be continually preached and commended. And this charity must be made manifest not so much by words as by deeds. Moreover, every opportunity must be taken to show what a great dishonor is done to the Christian name by these base deeds, which we are here denouncing” (5).
The pope promises to create more missionary stations.
“As for our part, having good reason to hope for the consent and support of the public authorities, we have more especially taken care to extend the field of Apostolic labor in these broad regions, appointing further missionary stations, where the Indians can find safety and succor” (6).
The pope also restates the penalty for those oppressing the Indians.
“And now, in order that what you shall do for the benefit of the Indians, whether of your own accord or at our exhortation, may be the more efficacious by the help of our Apostolic authority, we condemn and declare guilty of grave crime whosoever, as he says, “shall dare or presume to reduce the said Indians to slavery, to sell them, to buy them, to exchange or give them, to separate them from their wives and children, to deprive them of goods and chattels, to transport or send them to other places, or in any way whatsoever to rob them of freedom and hold them in slavery; or to give counsel, help, favor, and work on any pretext of color to them that do these things, or to preach or teach that it is lawful, or to co-operate therewith in any way whatever.” (6).
May God continue to help us🙏🏾