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Ibero-American Conference at BC Examines Liberation Theology

The School of Theology and Ministry (STM) recently hosted over 40 preeminent theologians from the United States, Latin America, Spain, and Canada. Alongside the theologians were Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and Bishop Raúl Biord Castillo, S.D.B. Both were here for a week-long Ibero-American Conference of Theology, held at BC’s Connors Center in Dover, Massachusetts.

The conference, organized by STM visiting professors Felix Palazzi and Rafael Luciani, sought to address globalization, the nature of social and economic exclusion, and the necessity of interculturality. These target areas are in light of the teachings of liberation theology and Pope Francis’ vision for the Catholic Church and its auspices.

Liberation theology is a movement that arose in the late twentieth century within the Roman Catholic faith. It aims to use faith-based practices to provide services to the needy, all the while encouraging involvement in civic and political affairs.

The movement proved to be of great importance in Latin America, where "base communities," led principally by lay ministers, strove to improve the lives of the poor by facilitating access to food, water, and electricity.

Some of the attendees at the conference played a critical role in the birth and propagation of liberation theology doctrine.

Juan Carlos Scannone, S.J., is one of the founders of the notion of “theology of the people,” the pontiff’s assertion that popular piety must counteract the spread of secularization (and the corruption that accompanies it). He, for example, was present at the event alongside theologians Olga Consuelo Velez Caro of Colombia and Father Roberto Tomicha of Bolivia.

The three theologians participated in a panel at Robsham Theatre on Feb. 8 that sought to examine the changing goals of the liberation theology movement.

Professor Thomas Groome, a professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, moderated the forum and asked the panelists about their involvement in liberation theology and the movement’s implications for Church life.

The panelists cited the Pope's invocation of a Church “that is poor and for the poor,” and explained the significance of that message for the proliferation of liberation theology practices. Each panelist also discussed the importance of bringing the language of liberation theology into the practice of the Christian faith so as to emphasize solidarity with communities that have been marginalized and displaced.

Professor Luciani, reflecting on the panel, asserted that the forum presented an occasion for intercultural understanding, which is especially timely in light of the recent divisiveness of national and global politics.

“This country was built on immigrants, so this [the conference] is a symbol that gives the Boston community hope that it is possible in times of fear to unify and construct something different,” Luciani commented in a recent statement.

The conference came to a close on Feb. 10 on BC’s campus, where Cardinal Baltazar Porras delivered a homily in Spanish during mass at the Parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Before the mass, a number of theologians convened at the church with supporters of pro-immigration policies. Here, the importance of interfaith and intercultural collaboration amid recent political developments was expressed.

The gathering also addressed the creation of sanctuary cities for immigrants. Ana Nuncio of the Salem Latino Leadership Coalition summarized the efforts her group has made in advocating for an ordinance to declare Salem a sanctuary city, according to The Boston Globe.

During his homily, Cardinal Porras cited the need for Catholics and non-Catholics to provide aid to immigrants and those in need while alluding to the immigration ban issued by the Trump administration. His message emphasized the unity of all peoples as well as strength through faith.

Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras and Bishop Raúl Biord Castillo, S.D.B. will present the results of the conference to Pope Francis and publish the research conducted throughout the event in a book later this year.

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