2019.01.14 Siccità, Africa, acqua, povertà, villaggio in Uganda

Pope: Modern neocolonialism is a crime and a threat to peace

In a message addressed to a workshop in the Vatican on neocolonialism, Pope Francis warns against modern economic and ideological colonialism and again, apologizes for those Christians who contributed to the colonization of Africa and the Americas.

By Lisa Zengarini

“No power - political, economic, ideological - is entitled to unilaterally determine the identity of a nation or social group,” Pope Francis told a forum of judges for social rights gathered this week in the Vatican for an African and American intercontinental workshop on modern neocolonialism.

“The subjugation and plunder of peoples through the use of force or cultural and political penetration is a crime (…) because there are no chances for peace in a world that discards populations and oppresses to loot,” the Pope wrote in a message to the participants.

The  legacy of the colonial system in Africa and the Americas 

The workshop, titled “Colonization, Decolonization and Neocolonialism in the Perspective of Justice and the Common Good”, was organized from March 30-31  by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, the Commission of  Pan American judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine and the University of Massachusetts, U.S.A..

Participants reflected on the legacy of the colonial system in Africa and the Americas  focusing on today’s global inequalities and social injustices, unsustainable development, unchecked climate change, and mass migration, and discussed the role of institutions and the justice system in reversing these developments.

Although in the 21st century we can no longer technically speak of "colonized" countries  from a geographical point of view, says Pope Francis, the same cannot be said with regards  to the economic and ideological aspects. Indeed, colonialism has changed in its forms, methods and justifications: “it is virtualised, camouflaged, hidden, making it difficult to to detect and neutralize it”.

Economic and ideological colonialism

The Pope cited by way of example the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he visited earlier this year along with South Sudan. He noted, that despite the DRC being independent for over seventy years, its rich resources continue to be exploited and contended by several stakeholders resulting in conflicts which heavily affect its territory, population and the common good.

Equally relevant, he continued, is the phenomenon of “ideological colonialism”, which “stifles the natural bond between peoples and their values, by trying to eradicate their traditions, history and religious beliefs”"

“Ideological colonialism  tends to standardize everything. It obeys a mentality that doesn' tolerate differences and focuses only on the present, on individual needs and rights, often neglecting duties towards the weakest and most fragile.”

No chances for peace in a world that discards and oppresses peoples

Pope Francis said he is particularly concerned by these new forms of colonialism. “It seems like several centuries of bloody and inhumane historical strife haven’t served to develop a global idea of liberation, self-determination and solidarity between nations and between human beings”, he remarked.

Colonialism is still there, but it is more “refined” and “subtle”, and justifies the new practices of domination “with claimed ‘natural’ deficiencies of the colonized”. In this context, the “frontal warfare” of old colonial times has been replaced today by “asymmetric conflicts and lawfare.”  

In this regard, Pope Francis remarked that we should never forget that the concrete expressions of justice and the common good mature in peoples, each with their “stories, origins, traditions, and religions”, which must be respected as such.

“This is why”, he said, "no power – political, economic, ideological – is entitled  to unilaterally determine the identity of a nation or a social group”. Subjugating peoples by force or through cultural and political penetration is to be considered a crime “because there are no chances for peace in a world that discards peoples and oppresses to loot”, the Pope stressed.

After reiterating the important role of scholars and scientific research in raising awareness on the fight against ongoing neocolonial practices, racism and segregation, Pope Francis highlighted the crucial importance of including native peoples and displaced ethnic groups in political decision-making processes  in their countries., by giving them a fair representation in representative bodies.

“We are asked to make the necessary effort to put an end to neocolonial practices and their expressions of racism and social segregation that descend from them sooner rather than later. (...) There will be no peace if, in the representative political systems, there is no real integration of the excluded peoples.”

Apologies for believers' contribution to colonialism

The Pope, for his part,  once again apologized “for the acts of some Christian  believers who in the past “directly or indirectly contributed to the processes of political and territorial domination of various peoples in America and Africa. “I also ask for an apology for any errors or omissions that have occurred or are occurring in the present”, he concluded.


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01 April 2023, 16:00