The Red Bishop

I saw the famed Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, the archbishop of Brazil’s impoverished northeast, only once. It was in 1994 and I was a student at the University of Paraíba in Campina Grande. The eighty-five-year-old archbishop of Olinda and Recife came to speak in our town, and I had to squeeze into a grandstand seat in a crowded gymnasium.

I was taken aback when I first saw him. This was the famous prophet and government critic? He looked so tiny, so fragile. Scarcely over five feet tall, he was accompanied to the speaker’s table by two taller men who supported his arms. But then he began to speak. “My sisters and brothers,” he said in a strong voice that belied his diminutive appearance, “do you want God to hear your voice?” He paused before the mute audience. “Well,” he demanded, “do you?” The crowd broke its silence with a thunderous yes. “Then lend your voice to the voiceless poor, because God hears their cry.” He then pleaded the cause of those he called “the miserables”—the millions of homeless and hungry in Brazil. We must show solidarity with them by demonstrating for justice, jobs, housing, and health care. But we were to do this as Jesus taught: prayerfully, lovingly, nonviolently. “We need to ‘act out’ our prayers,” he said.

While the media made much of Dom Hélder’s confrontations with government officials and multinational companies, commentators seldom spoke of his prayer...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Flávio Rocha is the author of Dom Hélder Câmara: Meditations for the Integrity of Creation. With his wife and daughter, he serves as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Brazil.