'Communist' Bishop's prophetic vision

Francis McDonagh (ed.): Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings. Orbis Books, 2009. ISBN: 9781570758232

Dom Helder Camara: Essential WritingsReal 'prophets' don't predict the future; they read the complex signs of the times that spell out how people, structures and systems generate poverty and lock out the poor, denying their status and dignity as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The late Brazilian Archbishop of Recife, Dom Helder Camara (1909–1999) was one of the great prophets of the 20th century. Living through an era of military dictatorship, he championed the poor of Brazil and the rest of the world, and influenced the Second Vatican Council, subsequent gatherings of Latin American Bishops, and even the latest papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

More a pastor marked by a deep spirituality than an academic theologian, he left behind reflections, prayers and writings, chosen and collated by Francis McDonagh in Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings. In true prophetic voice, Dom Helder's words remain as relevant to today's world as they were to the time in which they were written.

What is remarkable about this latest addition to the Modern Spiritual Masters series is just how contemporary its analysis of reality — especially of poverty — feels today, in a world of rapid transition in which globalisation, economic integration, and the gap between rich and poor have intensified with our communications.

Despite the differences between the economic and social climates of the present day and the time of writing, Dom Helder's insights into causes and structures can still speak to the financial crisis and challenge us to address the issue of basic justice for the poor on an international level.

McDonagh presents a brilliantly compact account of Dom Helder's life. He traces Dom Helder's early ministry, which was devoted to improving Catholic education by preaching, lecturing and organising Catholic action.

In setting the scene of Brazilian politics in the 1930s and 1940s, McDonagh gives a taste of the detailed history of the Church's role in making tackling poverty a priority. Reading his introduction, 'Dom Helder in context', left me eager to read more of McDonagh's knowledge of the Church in 20th century Latin America — is there scope for a book on the history of the 'preferential option for the poor'?

Here, however, the focus is on Dom Helder's writings, in particular The Church and Colonialism (1969), The Desert is Fertile (1974) and Through the Gospel with Dom Helder Camara (1986), with carefully chosen selections from each annotated and organised into four key themes: 'A Church of Service and Poverty'; 'From Paternalism to Liberation'; 'Walking with God'; and 'The Unity of Creation'.

Each brief passage is titled, allowing this book to be used as a meditation manual for anyone doubting the direction of the Church post-Vatican II. Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings is a book to keep close by, to read regularly and prayerfully, clarifying the signs of our times and helping us to remain faithful.

John BattleJohn Battle is Member of Parliament for Leeds West in England. Excerpt republished from Thinking Faith. 


Topic tags: John Battle, Francis McDonagh, Dom Helder Camara, Essential Writings.Orbis Books, ISBN: 9781570758232



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Existing comments

A remarkable man but too controversial. Yet no one can deny this Archbishop's genuine love and commitment towards Brazil's poor. And ideology aside, all Catholics can and should learn something from this example.
Nathan Socci | 30 October 2009


Helder Camara was a bit like Jesus, a remarkable man but too controversial. And no one can deny His love and commitment toward’s the poor of this world. And ideology aside, all Catholics can and should learn something from His example as well.

Barry Fletcher | 30 October 2009

Thank you Barry Fletcher, I am well aware of Jesus Christ.
Nathan Socci | 30 October 2009


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