Ocampo: Colonial foundation of the Church undermines the legitimacy of the Catholic faith

Aidan Ocampo, Columnist

One of the largest religions in the world, Christianity has maintained a widespread presence in every corner of the globe. But how could a single religion manage such a massive, global conversion of its followers?

Early European explorers answered this question by carrying out widespread subjugations of indigenous people under the guise of alleged missionary efforts. In actuality, the colonists sought the fulfilment of their ambitious economic endeavours in the name of Christianity, in an attempt to justify their unjust colonization of indigenous lands.

Across multiple continents, the Christian influence of the Spanish colonists is inescapable. In the case of the Philippines, after the Spanish claimed the Asian archipelago as their own (thus naming it after their monarch, King Philip II), the friars and soldiers coordinated the mass conversion of all the local people. During their oppressive domination of the Philippines, they considered conversion through baptism to be an indication of allegiance to Spanish authority.

To enforce the conversion of the natives, those caught practicing their “pagan” rituals were punished. The missionaries even went as far as destroying native artifacts, including local histories written on bamboo. In the Philippines, the lasting impacts of Spanish Christian colonialism can still be felt today as over 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholic, leaving the remnants of their old native traditions now invisible.

Besides their racist depiction of the natives as “savages” whose souls could be brought to God, the Spanish also characterized them as exploitable economic assets. Under the Spanish encomienda system, natives were forced to provide labor while undergoing compulsory Christianization and the subsequent destruction of their traditions.

The same church that teaches “care for God’s creation” didn’t care for the native land when transforming it to ecologically degrading monocultures — the practice of replacing sustainable subsistence farming with exploitative methods intended for the lone purpose of maximizing their own profit.

The same church that preaches the supposed tenets of “caring for the poor” and the respect for “dignity of human life” also enacted the wholescale domination of indigenous people who were vulnerable to the well-established Spanish empire.

In fact, the Spanish intentionally utilized and learned the native language to enhance their conversion techniques through religious teachings. However, out of fear of potential independence, the Spanish were reluctant to provide too much education as to lose sovereignty of their valuable converts. Thus, after completing the eradication of their native traditions, gross confiscation of their own land, and forceful exploitation of their labor, the Spanish withheld even the opportunity for education — cementing the permanent inferiority of the natives.

Given the destructive roots of Christianity’s popularization, why do the former Spanish colonies such as the Philippines and much of Latin America still practice Christianity? As a proud Filipino-American, I ask myself this question everyday. Centuries of Spanish colonization have left unforgivable implications for my homeland. Now, Christianity is inextricably entwined with the enduring cultures of the Philippines and many other former colonies.

Pleading for forgiveness, the Catholic Church has since denounced its colonial past. In a 2015 speech to a Bolivian audience, Pope Francis admitted “many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

However, despite the Catholic Church’s efforts to reconcile with its history of colonization, also in 2015, Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra— officially granting sainthood to a man who brutalized indigenous people across California in the name of Catholicism.

Last year, the Black Lives Matter movement awoke calls for the Catholic Church to rectify its historical wrongdoings. Throughout California, statues of the genocidal Junipero Serra were removed from public land amid calls to destroy the last symbols of the church’s colonial legacy. Yet, leaders of the Church will go to any length to defend their murderous missionaries.

The Catholic Church has utterly failed to provide meaningful reparative actions for the unimaginable devastation it permeated in its destructive rapacious conquests. The injustices performed against the native people are simply irreversible.

Though the reign of the domineering Spanish empire has since subsided, its fatal colonial history has left a permanent stain on the legitimacy of the Catholic faith. The Church’s blinding hypocrisy in undermining its own key tenets and laughable attempts at restitution have left converts few reasons to continue the faith of their colonizers. I for one will not further the shameful, destructive practices of the colonizers who stole my land, my history, and my national identity.

Aidan Ocampo is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.