Liberation Theology

A single statement can be very powerful.  It can set us on a path of discussion, debate and reflection.  It can lead to our seeing things differently, to a change of heart and to action.

I recently came across some postcards I’d kept from the 1980s, with quotations on them.  One quotation, by Dom Helder Camara, read: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”  I wasn’t sure who Camara was, but clearly some people saw him as a threat.

It turns out that he was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in the north east of Brazil.  A country then ruled by a military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985.  For those 21 years Camara led the church in that area.  He was an outspoken critic of the government and worked politically and socially for the poor, for human rights and for democracy.

Helder Camara was an advocate for Liberation Theology, a theology of action, which has at its heart, a concern for the poor and the liberation of oppressed peoples.  It’s also necessarily about human rights and human dignity and sets out to address inequalities and discrimination.  I think Jesus might have identified with that.  In fact, in various ways, isn’t all Christian theology a Liberation Theology?

Camara certainly upset people.  The old cliché goes that religion and politics don’t mix.  Don’t mix church and state.  Traditionalist Catholics urged the military government to arrest Camara for his support of land reform.  It’s easy to forget the Gospel when it threatens our interests.

Chris Dawson

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