Why should they have it so bad when we have it so good?
That is what Quality of Life in the Americas is all about. It is Nelson A. Rockefeller’s 137-page report to President Nixon on conditions in Latin America. Blunt, grim, yet optimistic, it presents a special challenge to North American Christians on the plight of their neighbors down the road.
Rockefeller makes one explicitly religious reference to the Roman Catholic Church in an unusual context.
Although it is not yet widely recognized, the military establishments and the Catholic Church are also among today’s forces for social and political change in the other American republics. This is a new role for them. For since the arrival of the Conquistadores more than 400 years ago, the history of the military and the Catholic Church, working hand in hand with the land-owners to provide “stability,” has been a legend in the Americas.
Few people realize the extent to which both these institutions are now breaking with their pasts. They are, in fact, moving rapidly to the forefront as forces for social, economic and political change. In the case of the Church, this is a recognition of a need to be more responsive to the popular will.…
Modern communications and increasing education have brought about a stirring among the people that has had a tremendous impact on the Church, making it a force dedicated to change—revolutionary change if necessary.
Actually, the Church may be somewhat in the same situation as the young—with a profound idealism, but as a result, in some cases, vulnerable to subversive penetration; ready to undertake a revolution if necessary to end injustice but not clear either as to the ultimate nature of the revolution itself or as to the governmental system by which the justice it seeks can be realized.
We feel that Rockefeller has exaggerated the Latin Catholic mood for change. Indeed, on one of the most crucial matters the Pope and the Latin hierarchy have shown absolutely no inclination to change. Rockefeller quotes a high government official in Colombia as saying that “our number one problem is population.” To be sure, there is considerable grass-roots sentiment for birth control; but as one woman told Rockefeller, “both the government and the Church turn their backs.”
The population problem needs to be dealt with immediately. The report notes that the population of most American republics is the fastest growing in the world. There are now 250 million people in Central and South America. In just thirty years there will be 643 million.
Rockefeller wisely calls attention to political forces that are trying to exploit Latin American problems. “Clearly,” he says, “the opinion in the United States that Communism is no longer a serious factor in the Western Hemisphere is thoroughly wrong.”
Well, what can the affluent North American Christian do? Some will be tempted to write off the concern on the grounds that Latin Americans should be doing more on their own. And this attitude is not wholly unjustified. Latin America has many internal problems that are hindering progress. Erasure of class distinctions would surely help to lift the level of all. Although discrimination against the Latin American Indian is seldom talked about, it is an evil that has perpetuated misery.
But we must look beyond these factors. Millions of Latin Americans are in need through no fault of their own. Christians living in the abundance common in the United States and Canada need to be made aware of what life is like in the other twenty-four countries of the hemisphere. Mission leaders should take the initiative in publicizing the need and determining what can be done to help.Establishing new Christian schools might be a particularly valuable effort at this juncture. More than 60 per cent of the Latin American population is now under twenty-four years old. The amount and type of education these young people get will determine the living standards and political ideology of the next generation. And if they are evangelized in addition to being educated, their lot will be that much more improved.
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