Thursday, February 6, 2014

João Batista Libanio, Theologian (1932-2014)

by Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
February 6, 2014

We were cousins -- he, a Jesuit, I, a Dominican. Gifted with a brilliant mind, a PhD in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, he spoke Spanish, English, German, French, Latin and Greek. And he was trained in Romance languages at PUC-Rio University. He also studied in Frankfurt. In Germany, he was a student of the famous theologian Karl Rahner. He specialized in dogmatic theology.

His sermons were pleasantly humorous and in personal dealings, he surprised people with jokes and ironic touches of classical quotations, many of them in German. During the Second Vatican Council, he directed the Brazilian Pius College in Rome, for the training of seminarians from Brazil. In 1969, seeing me persecuted by the dictatorship, he welcomed me at the Christ the King Seminary in São Leopoldo (RS), where he taught theology.

In 1974, he joined the Emmaus group, which supported liberation theology. We used to meet twice a year on weekends. Libanio would never miss it. In fact, he was the coordinator of the group. He would receive us at the Jesuit retreat house in Correas (RJ) and used to take note of everything covered in the session. Next year, he would have been a key player in the commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the Emmaus group.

But while he was a scholar all in all, he made a radical option for the poorest. He lived in Venda Nova, in greater Belo Horizonte, and had classes in the Jesuit seminary. On weekends, he celebrated Mass in a rural parish in Vespasiano (MG).

A talented writer, he published 125 books, 36 of which under his sole authorship. He advised major meetings of bishops and cardinals, including the Synod of Bishops in Rome, as well as meetings of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. He was one of the leading figures of the Christian Base Communities in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In recent years, he did not accept most of the invitations to lecture and offer advice. He preferred to stay at home to pray, read, and write.

Disciplined, a walker, he swam every day for almost an hour. During the retreat he preached for the Sisters of Zion in Curitiba, who are devoted to ministry to the working class, he suffered a massive heart attack on the morning of Thursday, January 30th. He crossed over at age 82.

Now the light of his deep Christian faith has bared the whole Mystery for him.

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