The 1968 conference in Medellín, Colombia was the second regional meeting of Latin America’s bishops whose primary objective was to interpret Vatican II for the Latin American context.
Looking back, Medellín was critical to the shaping of the modern Church and set it on a path which gave us an Argentinian pope who is the embodiment of ‘A Poor Church for the Poor’.
The Conference’s documents denounced the region’s economic, political, and cultural dependency on northern and European powers, criticising a dominance which benefitted a minority, and emphasising a theme of liberation against oppressive structures.
Medellín was a key moment in the development of Catholic Social Teaching and Latin America’s contribution to it.
It was during this era in the region that Liberation Theology grew in influence, and after Medellín the bishops officially promoted Ecclesiastical Base Communities, Christian grassroots organisations specific to Latin America which were a vital source of civil society mobilisation in the face of widespread repression.
These are just two examples of the Church’s significant contribution to opposing injustice in the region which would not have been possible without Medellín.
It is impossible to interpret Medellín without taking into consideration the Cold War context of 1960s Latin America, of authoritarianism and the accompanying violence which swept the continent.
From the Cuban Revolution, to military dictatorships in the Southern Cone, to Central American civil wars, no corner of the region was untouched by political and physical repression during this decade.
It is also worth noting that during this authoritarian period in Latin America, it was often Church figures who were the most outspoken government critics such as Rutilio Grande, Oscar Romero, Hélder Câmara, Camilo Torres and countless others who lost their lives defending the voiceless.
Since democratisation in the 1980s, Latin Americans have enjoyed greater opportunities and personal freedoms than ever before.
However, the economic injustice highlighted at Medellin is still regrettably relevant to Latin America. On this anniversary, at a time when more people than ever are struggling financially, and the poorest are the hardest hit, let us reaffirm the Bishops’ commitment to them.