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The Internalized Oppression of Latin American Catholics

This September I attended the Latin American Pre-World-Conference Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The conference was led by Tim Jackins and organized by Ronnie Rafferty. Ronnie, a Dominican sister from Ireland, has been living in Argentina for twenty-five years. I was inspired by her organizing abilities, quiet unstoppable confidence, and enthusiasm to share Co-Counseling throughout Latin America. She teaches Co-Counseling to the Dominican sisters wherever she goes. They, in turn, are starting support groups in their local barrios-for women, men, unemployed folks, young people, students, and other religious women. Ronnie has developed a ten-week naturalized program for women, and many people first learn about Co-Counseling through being involved in one of these support groups. The conference was an opportunity for many participants to learn more about the full program of Re-evaluation Counseling.

The conference was conducted in Spanish and English. Indigenous people shared songs in their native languages. On the first evening, during dinner, the Mexican women at one table sang happy birthday to Georgina. When they finished, a second table sang another birthday song from another country. At least twelve different birthday songs were sung representing traditions throughout Latin America. The workshop had hardly begun, and people were already feeling joyous, zestful, warm, and generous towards each other.

I traveled to the conference with Joanne Bray, RC International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics. I went primarily to back her and Ronnie's leadership, to help make the conference go well in whatever ways I could, to interpret in English/Spanish wherever I was needed, to gather more material for the RC Catholic journal, and to broaden my picture of Catholic liberation.

Latin American Co-Counselors have not yet focused much on the internal or external oppression of Catholics. Catholic culture dominates throughout Latin America, and this makes it harder to "see" the daily influence of Catholic patterns. However, Catholic internalized oppression was worked on indirectly in various support groups on improving relationships with family members, women's issues, discharging addictions, discharging distress around making mistakes, community building, and using the "understatement" technique.

Discharging an "Addiction to Suffering"

Joanne and I visited six Catholic churches in Argentina, which helped us think about our Latin American Co-Counselors. In the churches were statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. These included gory depictions of Jesus with his body badly bruised and bloodied; with thorns in his head, blood running down his face, body, hands, and feet, and a pained expression of suffering and torment on his face.

A Catholic pattern of "addiction to suffering" seemed particularly visible in Latin America. After the Spanish conquerors came to Latin America, the Spanish owning class used the Catholic Church to exploit the Indigenous people. If one believes that life is about suffering and that one's only reward is in heaven, then it is more difficult to fight against injustice and oppression in one's current life. This "addiction to suffering" gets passed down generation to generation and leaves many Latin Americans vulnerable to continued exploitation.

In future churches, I envision scenes of Jesus talking with children, healing sick people, and teaching through parables. I would love to see a visual image of five thousand people sharing food with each other, to depict the story of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus modeled courage and leadership, yet most Catholics become preoccupied with his death instead of the enormous power of his life.

Joanne led a topic group on giving up the addiction to suffering. The women laughed and laughed at the idea, and sometimes poked fun at their own pained expressions which they habitually carry on their faces.

Discharging the Effects of U.S. Imperialism on Latin American People

Joanne showed how to use the "role exchange." She invited one woman, N-, to say the phrase, "I'm not the one living under the effects of U.S. imperialism on Latin America. You are! And this is what I'm going to do to you . . . !" At first N- was scared of offending us and hurting our feelings, but with Joanne's encouragement she discharged a huge amount of rage and grief. U.S. Co-Counselors can be powerful allies to our Latin American neighbors by using this role-exchange technique. Let's discharge any guilt feelings we have so that we can serve as "targets" for people who need to rage and discharge their feelings of powerlessness in the face of U.S. dominance.

U.S. policy in Latin America affects working people on a daily basis. N- told us, "Your president tells our president what to do." It's hard for Latin Americans to feel powerful and in charge of their lives when their own president has to answer to the U.S. president about their country's economy, jobs, and money. The Latin American debt is a huge burden on working people. Social programs are cut in order to pay the interest on the debt and to advance capitalism. As state-run businesses are pri-vatized, unemployment runs as high as twenty percent.

Teaching RC to People from Catholic Parishes

After the conference, Joanne and I traveled with Ronnie to the city of Resistencia in northern Argentina to assist Ronnie in teaching Co-Counseling to new groups of people.

We spent a week in a convent with six sisters from Sagrada Familia. Ronnie led a three-day class with the sisters on human sexuality and communication skills. The sisters were so embarrassed by the topic, they couldn't stop laughing. In dinner conversations, Joanne encouraged the sisters to say proudly, "Yo soy una mujer" (I am a woman) which led to more laughter. Another topic was the isolation of religious women and the compulsive pull to give and give without any expectation of help for their own struggles.

One evening we went with one of the sisters and a woman from the barrio to visit the town's cultural center. There we met five women from the native tribe of Toba, who sang us several songs from their tradition.

We also met the local parish priest, who, with several lay women and men, has organized twenty-two base communities of ten to twenty-five people each, in his relatively poor parish. He invited us to speak to his congregation after Sunday mass about Co-Counseling. That weekend Joanne and Ronnie also led a two-day workshop on the fundamentals of Co-Counseling with forty people from four different parishes. I assisted with interpreting.

The people attending this workshop were remarkable in their caring for each other, their enjoyment of life in the face of economic struggles, their loving of their children, and their trying to improve their communities. During one lunch, the topic came up of women's role in the church and in society. Ronnie put a white napkin on her head and pretended to be the Pope. Then every woman took a turn telling Ronnie what she thought needed to change in the Church and in society to improve the lives of Latin American women. There was lots of laughing as the women thought and spoke boldly. That conversation was taped and is being transcribed for the RC Catholic journal.

Through their ongoing participation in Catholic base community groups, the people at this workshop already understood the importance of sharing life stories and listening. They were very interested in learning about active listening skills and using the discharge process.

Ellie Hidalgo
Washington, D.C., USA

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00