On the margins of theology – V

7 01 2010

The archbishop vs. the folk saint

The story of Catholicism in Latin America, especially in the last fifty years, has often been a spectacle of the blind leading the blind. While in historical Catholicism, it is the clergy that is supposed to be the defenders of piety and tradition, it has often been members of the common laity who, in their sometimes distorted way, have been defending the historical ethos of the Church. Often, there are no good guys or bad guys, no side that is definitely on the side of the Gospel, or side that is bent on distorting it. In a way, Catholicism is a distorted religion per se since it has always attempted to draw all things towards itself, with often mixed results.

No story in the Church better expresses this than the very real battle between the late archbishop of Cuzco, Luis Vallejos, and the bizarre “folk saint”, el Niño Compadrito. In the late 1970’s, the cleric and advocate of liberation theology waged a real war against this “idol”, seeking to confiscate and burn it while his loyal followers hid him in their houses. While the war is still being waged on a smaller scale in the highlands of Peru, that particular battle was won by the folk saint in a very ominous and tragic way.
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