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Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism

Lukumí-Catholic Theological Dialogue

The Center sponsored a gathering (February 22-26, 2006) of Lukumí and Catholic theologians, with a Protestant presence, in order to establish the grounds and themes for (and be a significant step towards) a sustained dialogue between the two religions. This first meeting, which was held in Miami, also helped to develop some of the themes for this groundbreaking Latino/a inter-religious dialogue.

The Lukumí religion traces its historical, ritual and theological roots to the Yoruba people (of present-day Nigeria ) and, more specifically, to the Yoruba slaves brought during the colonial period to Cuba . There it survived, grew and developed, carefully protecting Yoruba religion (e.g., priesthood, sacred stories, rituals, experiences of the sacred), while adapting itself to survive within the context of slavery and (later) within the republican period. From Cuba the religion has spread to other Latin American countries, to Europe, and to the United States. It remains a force in the Yoruba areas of Nigeria, and millions in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. recognize themselves as members of the Lukumí religion. Similar developments occurred in Brazil (where the religion is called Candomblé).

The Lukumí religion in Cuba (and elsewhere) has been called "Regla de Ocha" and "Santería," but the preferred self-identification for many of its members today is "Lukumí" (related to the Yoruba term for "friends"). It is, by far, the (numerically) largest non-Christian religion among U.S. Latinos/as.

Roman Catholicism and the Lukumí religion have led parallel lives in Cuba and elsewhere, often intersecting culturally and religiously in people's daily living. Some U.S. Latino/a communities, for example, could not satisfactorily understand their ethnic/racial/cultural/religious identities were it not for the centuries-old intersections of the Catholic and the Lukumí. And yet, these two distinct and different religions have rarely known how to theologically dialogue with each other.

After centuries of misunderstandings (and sometimes persecution), new voices are asking new questions and new contexts are suggesting the need for serious and sustained inter-religious, theological dialogue. The Second Vatican Council's Nostra Aetate (the conciliar decree on non-Christian religions) insisted on the Catholic obligation to sincerely respect and dialogue with all religions; and later developments in the Catholic theologies of grace, salvation and mission have made this dialogue possible and theologically necessary. The Lukumí theology of inclusiveness also encourages understanding of and dialogue with non-members of the religion, thereby grounding and justifying a shared search with others-- assuming mutual respect and parity of dignity among those who engage in dialogue and shared search.

The Center's groundbreaking project, therefore, is probably the first opportunity (in several centuries) for LukumĂ­ and Catholic theologians to jointly discover themes and ways for sustained and systematic conversation. This project is also the first time that the Center engages in inter-religious dialogue with Latinos/as of another religious tradition. The project is ongoing and it is scheduled to be concluded in academic year 2010-2011.

As a result of this project, a volume of original essays will be published in the Center's series with Orbis Books.

Participating in this project are:

Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi
Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta

Orlando O. Espín
University of San Diego

Jeff González
Florida International University , Miami

Michelle González
University of Miami

Miguel W. Ramos
Florida International University, Miami