Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Search for Colombian "Q": Discovering the Hidden Source of a Spirituality of Hope

By Hector Acero Ferrer

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to share some of my interfaith experiences in a session of a Muslim-Christian dialogue run by two very active interfaith organizations in Toronto. In the panel where I participated, youth and young adults were asked to talk about their particular encounters with other faith traditions in the context of a secularizing, globalized world. Since I was born and raised in Colombia, I was supposed to give an overview of the situation in Latin America, providing some context for my personal experience and for the way in which interfaith dialogue is done outside of Canada. As I started to think about the topic I panicked, as I had the same reaction many Canadians have when they hear the terms “interfaith” and “Latin America” in the same sentence: what can I possibly tell a group of Torontonians about interfaith when my own experience in the topic is so limited?

This was the first time I reflected upon the fact that I had appropriated a stereotype without further consideration: I assumed that Roman Catholicism was an overarching attribute of Latin American culture and, more to the point, that my own circumstances had isolated me from the input of other faith traditions. Although concerned about these prejudices and unfounded generalizations (especially coming from someone who claims to take philosophy and religion seriously), I began my analysis confidently, aware that it is common to all Colombians –every single one of them- to overgeneralize and exaggerate. In this process I found out that diverse faith traditions are still alive in Colombian territories, finding expression through radical Christian theologies, different forms of mystical spirituality, and an ongoing, insistent call to social transformation.

In order to further explore the encounter of faith traditions in Colombia, I should probably begin by mentioning Colombia’s current socio-political environment. Similar to many other nations in the so-called “Developing World,” Colombia is a country where many layers of conflicts and crises stem out of a single social contradiction: how is it possible to be so poor when we are so rich in all the resources that the world needs the most? This is not a new question, or one exclusive to this region, but it is certainly a concern that has oriented the “Colombian-experience” from the time of the Spanish colonial rule.

Claiming to be 90% Roman Catholic, Colombia is "officially" consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the birthplace of Liberation Theology (Conference of Latin American Bishops of 1968), and the location of the first office of the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas. Colombia is also the country where thanks to the traffic of drugs the meaning of "full of grace" and "full of sin" have collided, where the shrine for "Our Lady of the Assassins" is not only the content of a movie but a crude, escalating reality, and where the current well-being of its peoples is exchanged as the mortgage for an afterlife justice.

Although all of these seem to be extensions of the Roman Catholic worldview imported to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers, it is possible to argue that there is a plurality of faith traditions that have found their way into current faith expressions. When comparing the way Roman Catholicism is lived in Toronto to my experience at home I cannot avoid concluding that there is a source to my interpretation of Christianity, a second set of beliefs and practices that informed the ritualistic experiences in which I was raised, one that did not correspond to the Western worldview. In a similar way that Biblical scholars postulate “Q” as the missing source of information for the synoptic gospels, I was led to postulate a “Q” source in the Colombian case, a source identifiable with not only one, but a multiplicity of aboriginal worldviews.

Colombians’ strong emphasis on motherhood and the role of women in organized religion, the significance of rituals surrounding death, marriages, and welcomes, and the understanding of the church as an organization that should start the building of the Kingdom here on earth are not necessarily the foundational pillars of Canadian Roman Catholicism. It seems to me that all these are indicative of the profound multicultural context in which Latin American Catholicism continues to develop. What the Spaniard “Conquistadores” encountered in the lands now called Central and South American was a plethora of faith traditions (some of them more ancient than Christianity) that infused Romanism and produced a Catholicism with a renewed spirituality and strength, which we can trace all the way to Pope Francis,
“God makes God-self felt in the heart of each person. God also respects the culture of all people. Each nation picks up that vision of God and translates it in accordance with the culture, and elaborates, purifies and gives it a system[…] God moves everyone to seek God and to discover God through creation[…] God encounters us; God reveals God-self to us, God shows us the way and accompanies us[…]” (Bergoglio 2010, p,19)
The call to action, the profound concern for the poor, and the special attention to hospitality are all elements that the aboriginal peoples cherished and imprinted in the following generations of natives, blacks, criollos, and Spaniards in Latin American lands. It is now widely accepted that the cultural interchange that occurred during the colonization process of the Americas happened in more than one direction; what is not usually discussed is that the exchange is still alive after many generations. This very rich encounter continues informing Colombians silently on new ways of living out the gospel of Christ, of remaining hopeful, and of holding each other in trust as members of the same human community. Isn’t this interfaith at its best?

Hector Acero Ferrer is a junior member at the Institute for Christian Studies, currently focusing his research on philosophy of language and philosophy of religion.


  1. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, Hector. Thank you! My conversion to Christ in my late teens led me into a church where Catholic "syncretism" was one of the major whipping boys, no doubt to reassure us of our own purity. But God does (if I may be so arrogant to presume) respect the individuality of cultures, just as much as God respects the personalities of individuals. Wasn't God's scattering at Babel an act of grace?