Thursday, October 18, 2012

Liberation theology as critical reflection on practice in the light of faith, according to Gustavo Gutiérrez

By Thamiris Magalhães (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Unisinos (in Portuguese)

Last night at the Continental Congress of Theology, a teleconference by Dr. Gustavo Gutiérrez titled "Latin American Theology: Trajectory and Prospects" took place. From his office at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, the founder of liberation theology spoke for just over an hour to the audience at the Unisinos amphitheater, packed with more than 700 people, about the course and prospects of that theology, which is celebrating 40 years of existence.

Gustavo Gutiérrez began the teleconference by saying there isn't just one Latin American theology. "People of African descent from a church in the U.S. wanted to say 'we exist'. This is also happening among us. The 1960s were very effervescent for peoples of African descent, Amazonian people, women. They were small movements, but the historical fact of the emancipation of the poor continues today," he observed.

"This fact made it clear that poverty and social insignificance is not a disgrace," he continued, stating that poverty is an injustice. "It isn't a fate, it's a condition. It's the result of human hands, which can also end this anti-human and anti-gospel situation, to use the words of Puebla." For Gutiérrez, no one is insignificant to God, but some are to our society.

"People may be insignificant for socioeconomic reasons, but also for racial, social, religious ones, etc. The concept of the poor was a new presence that continues and comes in waves. These waves arrive with their poverty on their backs. Poverty reveals the depth of injustice. This new presence of the insignificant ones, of the poor, led us to see deeper elements in the lives of these people and realize that they aren't just social subjects, but human beings who have a right to happiness," he explained. For him, there is an important point in Aparecida that says we should not leave this suffering aside.

Hidden poverty

"We know that there are many kinds of hidden poverty", said Dr. Gutiérrez. And he continued: "We're ashamed to talk about certain domestic embarrassments, among others." According to the author of The God of Life, "from the Latin American point of view, Medellín was the first and in a certain sense the only continental reception of Vatican II."

John XXIII's famous phrase "the church of the poor", according to Gutierrez, was not well understood at the beginning, "but later the issue was taken up again as follows: the problem of poverty in the world and the gospel for the poor should be the theme of the Council and not a theme."

Vatican II

Speaking of the issue of poverty -- also according to Gustavo Gutierrez -- and the evangelization of the poor, brings us to the role of the church. "The theme of the church of the poor wasn't raised at Vatican II, but it marked the conciliar event, the church of the poor as sign and sacrament at the Council of the unity of human beings."

Another issue that Gustavo Gutiérrez recalled, from the Latin American point of view, was Scripture. "The Council speaks of Scripture as the soul of theology." According to him, "Vatican II did a remarkable job, but it didn't talk about everything."

The Second Vatican Council opened many doors but at the same time that opening means it's necessary to go through those doors, go straight through them. "The reality of the Vatican said that. Both reasons -- the reality of Latin America, poverty, injustice, suffering, and the the open doors of the Council -- led to experiments and motivation," Gustavo Gutiérrez recalled, on being asked "what language is needed for those who are not regarded as human beings, as people, who are children of God? These questions are beyond our ability to answer, but we can't avoid them. It's a question that's still valid today."


"Spirituality, living the faith -- it's a lifestyle. It's a way of being human and Christian. With spirituality, I'm on the practice field," he said. And he added, "Poverty and social insignificance are real challenges to the faith experience. It was very hard to make many people understand that in the church, those who see poverty positioned as social extermination, when it's actually a global human issue, when in fact poverty is physical, and in some ways cultural, death."

For Gustavo Gutiérrez, when we despise a culture, in some way we despise those who belong to it. "As Christians, we are called to be witnesses to the resurrection, ie, the victory over death. Creation is a gift of life. And theology has been collective and ecumenical from the beginning."

"I would like to remind you that this theology has tried to define itself as critical reflection on practice in the light of faith. Critical reflection means that we are aware of the need for rigor in thought and reflection. With humility, but with conviction, the best answer we are able to give to tell people that God loves them, even in the situation in which they live, is in solidarity with the poor and rejection of oppression." He went on: "Liberation theology, which is what we call the preferential option for the poor, is important for remembering that the Church belongs to everyone, but especially the poor."


Gustavo Gutiérrez believes that today, not only in Latin America, Christians around the world are confronted with great challenges and inside each one, many others. "There is no challenge that doesn't give us us a new hermeneutical field so that we can understand faith and nurture its experience." He continues: "I believe that poverty is a challenge to the faith experience, because it leads us to rethink the Christian message and put it on new -- different -- bases."

Gutiérrez also believes that there's a criterion for knowing whether or not we're close to God, "and this criterion is whether we're close to the poor." According to him, we should know which God we're talking about. "How do you tell the poor that God loves them?," he asks. Ane he adds: "We must understand which God we need to talk about."

Religious Pluralism

"I believe that pluralism is essential. The plurality of religions poses big challenges and I believe it also offers a goldmine of challenges that lead us to think about the Christian message in numerous ways."

For Gustavo Gutiérrez, theology is and should always be a hermeneutic when we speak of the reasons for our hope. "Perhaps these efforts of ours may seem utopian to us. The future comes from conviction through suffering and that is what drives us to go on having hope."

Finally, Gutiérrez ends the teleconference with the following sentence: "Young theologians should be close to society, to the people, vigorously studying and taking the challenge seriously."

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