Brazilian Indians have reacted with anger to Pope Benedict XVI’s claim during his recent trip to Brazil that their ancestors had been ‘silently longing’ to become Christians when Brazil was colonised 500 years ago.

Jecinaldo Sateré Mawé of the Amazonian Sateré Mawé tribe called the Pope’s remarks ‘arrogant and disrespectful’.

Pope Benedict XVI also claimed, according to the BBC, that the Christianisation of the region ‘had not involved an alienation of the pre-Colombian cultures’.

Today, the indigenous population of Brazil is less than 7% of what it was in 1500. Of a thousand distinct tribes, only about 220 remain.

The Catholic Church’s Indian advocacy group in Brazil, CIMI, has called the Pope’s statement, ‘wrong and indefensible’. Before the Pope made his comments, Indian leaders had written to him about the threats they continue to face, and expressed their gratitude for the support of missionaries and the church in Brazil in fighting for their rights.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘It is tragic that unlike previous popes who have visited Brazil, His Holiness did not meet with Indian leaders, and made no public reference to the genocide visited upon the indigenous peoples of Brazil over the past 500 years.’

For further information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email mr@survival-international.org