Dom Helder Camara: a life that inspires, encourages and exhorts me still.

dhcDuring my years in Latin America I was inspired, encouraged and exhorted by the life and ministry of Dom Helder Camara, a courageous elder brother In Christ, who was at that time the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Recife, Brazil.

At my ordination in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1986, the sermon was preached by my mentor and dear friend the late David Penman, then Archbishop of Melbourne. He titled his address, ‘Taking Brokenness Into Ourselves’. In part, David said,

‘A few months ago I was fortunate to have as a guest in my home the saintly Dom Helder Camara of Brazil. Just before leaving he wrote in a copy of his small book “Hoping against All Hope” (Orbis 1984) the words:

“With Christ it is impossible to lose the hope!”
(Dom Helder Camara, Melbourne, May 13th, 1985.)

David continued,

“Over the next few days I read the book with deep appreciation and at one point came across the simple poem

“The stone suffers
because all speak
of its hardness
and yet
You (Lord) used to look for a stone as a pillow for your head,
for you knew, and you know
that the hope of stones
is to serve
and when they serve.
they become as soft
as clouds …”

“For me its meaning suddenly became clear. The hardness and selfishness of my life, when placed in his hands, can bring about an extraordinary change. The stone becomes flesh and begins to understand, and to feel, and to hurt. So much so, that for many of us the price proves to be too great, too high and we find new and ‘legitimate’ ways of choosing a different path. To ‘become stones’ again! Dom Helder (in his own life) responds to this situation graphically.”

I wonder, how many people, like myself, when criticised for their apparently exaggerated concern for the underlying causes of the poor and marginalised, have quoted in their defence Dom Helder Camara,

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.
But when I ask why there are poor, they call me a Communist.”

He challenges me in my current role as bishop, as shepherd,

“Denunciation of injustice is an absolutely essential chapter in the proclamation of the Gospel. And not merely a duty for the few. It is a human duty for everyone, a Christian duty for all Christians, and an absolute duty for the shepherds.”


Read more from this dedicated disciple of Christ in Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 2009.

See Fr John Dear, National Catholic Reporter for an excellent article.

The first photograph and an abridged version of the online article above is available here.

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