This is the English translation of an article by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, La teología de la liberación se propaga, pese al veto del Vaticano , published this month through IPS.
Since its inception in the late '60s, liberation theology has taken a global perspective, focusing on the plight of the poor and oppressed in the world, victims of a system that lives off the exploitation of labor and the depredation of nature.
This system exploits the working classes and the weaker nations. And it also suppresses those who oppress and therefore they deny their own humanitarian feelings. In short, all should be released from a system that has lasted for at least three centuries and has been imposed around the globe.
Liberation theology is the first modern theology that has taken on this overall objective: to think about the fate of humanity from the state of the victims. Accordingly, its first option is to be committed to the poor, life and freedom for all. It emerged at the periphery of the main Church, not in the metropolitan centers of sacred thought. Because of its origin, it has always been regarded with suspicion by academic theologians and especially by church bureaucracies and by the most important denomination, the Roman Catholic Church.
From its birthplace in Latin America, liberation theology came to Africa, and spread to Asia and also to sectors in the First World identified with human rights and solidarity with the dispossessed. Poverty understood as oppression reveals many faces: the indigenous people who from their ancestral wisdom devised a rich indigenous liberation theology, black liberation theology that felt the painful scars left from the slave nations, that of women who have been subjected to patriarchal domination since the Neolithic era, that of workers used as fuel for the production machine. Each has a specific oppression that corresponds to a specific liberation.
The basic theological question that so far we have not answered is: how to credibly proclaim a God who is a kind Father in a world filled with poor people? It makes sense only if it involves the transformation of this world, so that the poor no longer cry out. For such a change to take place they themselves have to become aware, organize and begin a political praxis of transformation and social liberation. As most of the poor in our countries were Christian, we tried to make faith a liberating factor. The churches that are heirs of Jesus who was poor and did not die of old age but on the Cross as a result of His commitment to God and His righteousness, would be the natural allies of this movement of poor Christians.
This support has been verified in many churches where there have been prophetic bishops and cardinals such as Helder Camara and Paulo Evaristo Arns in Brazil, Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador and many others, as well as many priests, religious and lay people who are politically engaged.
Because of its universal cause in the early 70s liberation theology was already a genuine international movement that brought together truly worldwide theological forums. An editorial board composed of more than a hundred Latin American theologians was established to compile a systematic theology from the perspective of liberation in 53 volumes. Thirteen volumes had already published when the Vatican intervened to abort the project. Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was harsh. He cut a promising work down at the roots, one that was beneficial for all the marginal churches and especially for the poor. He will go down in history as the Cardinal – and later the Pope – who was an enemy of the intelligence of the poor.
Liberation theology created a political culture. It helped form social organizations such as the Landless Movement,the Indigenous Pastoral Program, and the Black Movement and was instrumental in the creation of the Workers Party in Brazil, whose leader, President Lula, always identified with liberation theology.
Today this theology has transcended the boundaries of denominational churches and has become a political and social force. Besides Lula, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, the former bishop and President of Paraguay Fernando Lugo, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and the President of the UN General Assembly, Nicaraguan priest Miguel d’Escoto also publicly identify themselves with liberation theology. Its greatest strength lies not in the theology departments but in the innumerable base ecclesial communities (in Brazil alone there are hundreds of thousands), in thousands of study circles where the Bible is read in the context of social oppression and the so-called social pastorals.
Rome is deeply delusional if it believes that with its doctrinal documents issued by cold bureaucracies removed from the life of the faithful it will curb liberation theology. It was born hearing the cry of the poor and now is moved by the cry of the Earth. As long as the poor continue to lament and Earth is groaning under productivist and consumerist virulence, there a thousand reasons to feel the call of a liberating and revolutionary interpretation of the Gospels. Liberation theology is the answer to an unjust reality and saves the main church from its alienation and a certain cynicism.