The late Brazilian Archbishop of Recife, Dom Helder Camara (1909 - 1999) was one of the great prophets of the twentieth 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 the analysis of reality that it presents - 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.
Francis 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 twentieth century Latin America - is there scope for a book on the history of our "preferential option for the poor?" - John Battle, Thinking Faith (click below for full review)
Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings
Edited by Francis McDonagh
Orbis Books, 2009