Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Helder Câmara carried out the Pact of the Catacombs in Recife

by Eduardo Hoornaert (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Blog de Eduardo Hoornaert (em português)
July 3, 2016

Right at the beginning of the book of Exodus are the following words:

"The messenger of Yhwh appeared (to the shepherd named Moses) in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush (thicket, briar, brush) (Ex. 3:2-3).

God calls out from the fire: Moses, Moses.

And Moses: Here I am.

God says: Do not come near. Remove the sandals from your feet, for this land is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

Yhwh says: Yes, I see the oppression of my people in Egypt, I have heard their cries against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Now, the outcry of the children of Israel has reached me, I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them.

Now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt." (v. 5-10).

Here, at Fronteiras, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses called Helder Camara by name.

"Helder, Helder."
"Here I am."

"Take off your sandals, because Fronteiras is hallowed ground. I have seen clearly the oppression of my people in the Northeast, I have heard their cries about the authorities, yes, I know their sorrows. Now, the cry of the children in the Northeast has come to me, I have seen the oppression caused by the highest authorities of the land."

Even today, these words resonate through the Church of Fronteiras, which is sacred territory. For over thirty years (between 1968 and 1999) there lived a man who knew how to listen to the words. God's call is still burning for those who have the eyes of Helder Camara, the ears of Helder Camara, the heart of Helder Camara.

Rome 1965


The big picture

In 1965, about 2,500 Catholic bishops are gathered in the Vatican, in the ample wealthy spaces of St. Peter's Basilica. They are of the most varied tendencies. There are a majority who don't know what they're doing in Rome. I know of a bishop who, during the intervals between sessions in the Basilica and during meal times (all for free), played chess with a colleague. Others must have played cards or were reading something. Anyway, most weren't surprised to be in the opulence of the Vatican and even thought it fitting for their episcopal dignity.

I will describe in brief lines the various tendencies that manifested themselves among the bishops, based on the book O Pacto das Catacumbas ["The Pact of the Catacombs"] by José Oscar Beozzo, that has just been released by Edições Paulinas.

The main group of bishops on the right enjoys the (implicit) sympathies of the Roman Curia and the major European media, controlled by political and economic forces that prefer a conservative Church. It's called the Coetus Internationalis Patrum (CIP: International Group of Fathers), which has as its reference point the French bishop Marcel Lefebvre and as more visible leadership, the Brazilian bishop Geraldo Sigaud. According to Beozzo, "Coetus" brings together more or less 300 Council fathers, but their power is much greater.

It's more difficult to name the left wing movements. Names appear of charismatic leaders who so to speak symbolize certain positions. Such as the Concilium journal group with Yves Congar, the "Ecumenical" group with Cardinal Bea, the "joys and hopes" group (which gave its name to the conciliar document Gaudium et Spes) with François Houtart, the "Opus Angeli" group (acting out of "Domus Mariae") with Helder Camara, and so on. Names like Dell'Acqua, Capovilla, Colombo, Suenens, Lercaro, Liénart and Doepfer also coalesce positions. These names give some context to the currents, blocs, and groups which often overlap, mingle, combine and, at times, coalesce.

But there's one group that stands out for the firmness of its position and depth of its questioning -- the "Church of the Poor." It doesn't appear in high profile in the history of the Council because it operates discreetly, almost timidly. Only in the third session, in November 1964, did it publicly propose two documents that received the support of more than 500 Council fathers -- "Simplicity and Gospel Poverty" and "That the evangelization of the poor be given first place in our [Episcopal] Ministry." Beozzo speaks here of the establishment of a "conciliar network," that is, a link that pervades the various segments of the episcopal universe meeting in Rome and that consists basically of support, at least formally, given to the words of Pope John XXIII in a radio address before the opening of the Council (September 11, 1962): the Church must be "in particular the Church of the poor." With those words, the term "the poor" gains an epistemological status which it preserves for decades in Church circles, mainly in Latin America. In the "Church of the Poor" group, the name that most stands out is that of the French worker-priest Paul Gauthier, founder of "Companions of Jesus the Carpenter" in Nazareth. In Rome, the meetings of that group usually took place in Fr. Gauthier's apartment or at the Belgian College.

What unites the "Church of the Poor" bishops is a common affection, a shared sensibility. In an ecclesiastical Rome made of power symbols, i.e. at the Vatican, these bishops don't feel good. The image of the "catacombs" comes up, which suggests an "underground" persecuted Church.

Three weeks before the conclusion of the Council, on November 16, 1965, some members of the "Church of the Poor" gathered in the catacomb of Saint Domitilla in Rome. Two months earlier, on September 12, Pope Paul VI was in the Saint Domitilla catacomb, showing symbolic support for the idea of a "Church of the catacombs." But it becomes something specific with the concelebrated Mass, presided by Msgr. Himmer, bishop of Tournai in Belgium. The bishops present signed the so-called "Pact of the Catacombs" with one another, a lifelong commitment "to proclaim good news to the poor." All very discretely, almost clandestinely. Just three weeks later, on the day of the closing of the Council (December 8, 1965), the French newspaper Le Monde publishes, without much emphasis, a note about "a group of anonymous bishops who have committed themselves to giving external witness to a life of strict poverty." The note is signed by journalist Henri Fesquet, observer of the Council on behalf of said newspaper.

Years later, through research conducted among the papers of Bishop Himmer, we have managed to recover the list of participants, as Beozzo reveals in a note found on the Internet. There are 39 signatories, almost all bishops. There are a few priests (such as Father Luiz Gonzaga, consecrated bishop a few days later, and Paul Gauthier). The presence of a woman is recorded, Marie Thérèse Lescaze, a French Carmelite residing in Palestine, a participant in the group surrounding Father Gauthier. Eight Brazilian bishops sign the document (some at the time, others later): Antonio Fragoso of Crateús, EC, Francisco Austregésilo Mesquita Filho of Afogados da Ingazeira, PE, João Batista da Mota e Albuquerque, Archbishop of Vitoria, ES, Luiz Gonzaga Fernandes (who is to be consecrated auxiliary bishop of Vitória some days later) Jorge Marcos de Oliveira of Santo André, SP, Helder Camara of Recife, PE, Henry Golland Trindade, Archbishop of Botucatu, SP, José Maria Pires, Archbishop of Paraíba, PB. Helder was not present at the time, although Beozzo writes that he was the author of the text, as Beozzo stresses. In the nineties, it was mainly bishops José Maria Pires, Valdir Calheiros, Antônio Fragoso and Adriano Hipólito who remembered the Pact.

Ten signed from other countries in Latin America: Manuel Larraín of Talca in Chile, Marcos Gregorio McGrath of Panama (Diocese of Santiago de Veraguas), Leonidas Proaño of Riobamba, Ecuador, Alberto Devoto of Goya, Argentina, Vicente Faustino Zazpe and Enrique Angelelli, bishop of Rioja assassinated by the military government, from Argentina, Juan José Iriarte of Reconquista, Argentina, Alfredo Viola, bishop of Salto, Uruguay, and his auxiliary, Marcelo Mendiharat, Tulio Botero Salazar, archbishop of Medellín and his auxiliary, [Miguel Antonio Medina] Medina, from Colombia. From Italy, Luigi Betazzi, auxiliary at that time to Cardinal Lercaro in Bologna, signed. From France there are the following names: Guy Marie Riobé, bishop of Orleans, Gérard Huyghe of Arras, and Adrien Gand, auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Liénart in Lille.

In Msgr. Himmer's papers other names yet appear, from different countries: Georges Mercier, bishop of Laghouat in the Sahara, [Maximos] Hakim, Melkite bishop of Nazareth, [Grégoire] Haddad, Melkite auxiliary bishop of Beirut, Gérard-Marie Coderre, bishop of Saint-Jean-de-Québec in Canada, Rafael Gonzalez Moralejo, auxiliary of Valencia in Spain, Julius Angerhausen, auxiliary of Essen in Germany, [Anibal] Muñoz Duque of Pamplona, Raúl Zambrano of Facatativá and Angelo Cuniberti, apostolic vicar of Florence. From Africa, Bernard Yago, archbishop of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Joseph Blomjous, bishop of Mwanza in Tanzania, signed; from Asia, Charles Joseph van Melckebeke, Belgian bishop of Ningxia in China, expelled and living in Singapore. There were also bishops from Vietnam and Indonesia.

The symbols of the Pact, such as exchanging the "jewel ring" for the simple "fisherman's ring", simplifying liturgical vestments and abandoning the traditional pompous style, meant a very specific lifetime commitment in terms of housing (abandoning the episcopal palace), transportation (simple automobiles), personal wealth (not having personal money in the bank). Finally, the bishops united by the Pact committed themselves to living as the common people lived in the country where they were residing.

All this happened very discretely, almost clandestinely, which shows the strong resistance in the episcopal body in general to the idea of a "Church of the poor." Today the Pact is still influencing the style of the Catholic episcopate. People are more attentive to the way in which the bishop behaves, beyond words and speeches. This is a definite gain, and in this sense we can say that the Pact is the most important event that occurred within the Second Vatican Council.

How Helder Câmara perceives this scene

Since before the Council, Helder Câmara, Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro, stands out. In a questionnaire sent to all the bishops by the Vatican, most bishops say that the big problem in the world is the opposition between capitalism and Communism, between the United States and the Soviet Union, between religion and secularism and even atheism. The big enemy is atheist Communism. Helder's response is entirely different: the big problem is that two-thirds of humanity live in poverty, have problems of hunger, endemic disease, housing. It should be said in so many words that Helder Câmara is one of the very few men in the Council who have "vision", as the theologian Congar wrote. Helder's Circular Letters begin with the following words: "The Council is going to be very difficult." That says it all.

Here I make a note: You may be surprised that I don't use the term "Dom" when talking about Helder Camara. In this, I am following point no. 5 of the Pact of the Catacombs, which reads, "We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the gospel name "Father". See Mt 20:25-28, 23:6-11, Jn 13:12-15." Or simply "brother."

I consulted Book 3 of Volume 1 of the Letters and some topics caught my attention:

1. In the Circular Letter of November 16-17, 1965, written on the eve right after the signing of the Pact, there is nothing about the Pact of the Catacombs. Only sparse references to "concelebrations" appear. It is that Helder has other commitments at the time; he isn't in the Saint Domitilla Catacomb then.

2. Only more than ten days later, in the Letters of 11/29-30 and 12/01-02 (Letters I, 3, 301 and 304) are the 13 points of the Pact talked about.

3. In general, the information is somewhat divergent. On p. 301, it is written that all 2,500 Council fathers received a mimeographed sheet about the poverty group, drafted at the house of Père Paul Gauthier. It seems that 500 reacted positively (testimony of Antônio Fragoso), but we don't know what the specific result of this was in those bishops' lives upon returning to their dioceses. But others reacted negatively. On p. 322, Helder writes that some bishops made a "mockery" of the papal gesture in exchanging the diamond ring for the "fisherman's ring." This shows that there was also resistance to the idea of episcopal poverty.

4. On p.322 it is written that, during the last days of the Council, Helder forwarded the text of the Pact to the pope.

The impression one is left with from reading these letters is that the bishop, in the last weeks of the Council, was involved in many things. He would like to know if the Pope accepts the three strong documents that he has written at the end of the Council. That's what occupies Helder's mind during the last weeks of the event.

What is very clear is that Helder shows aversion to Roman pomp. For him, the Vatican is a papal court, the most impressive court in existence in the whole Western world. There are mind-blowing images scattered throughout the pages of the Circular Letters. The bishop sees Emperor Constantine (4th century) crossing St. Peter's Basilica on a horse at full gallop. In another vision, the pope throws the tiara into the Tiber and walks berserk through the streets of Rome, where he meets prostitutes and thieves. He imagines the Pope giving the Vatican to an institution (UNESCO?) specialized in managing museums and going to live in an apartment in Rome. He dispenses with ambassadors at the Vatican and the Vatican nuncios. He dispenses with the Vatican. Thus he can quickly undertake the reform of the Roman papal Curia (the papal court).

I strongly advise reading these circulars, because each one brings a surprise. When you least expect it, an absolutely brilliant sentence appears, in many different senses. For example, his assessment -- historically impecable -- of the 4th century Council of Nicaea (I, 3, 265), or when he complains that with cardinals it is "humanly impossible" to work (I, 3, 268), or when he writes that quoting texts from Isaiah is very beautiful, but the people don't understand words like Zion, Israel etc. and that you need to say things with words that people understand. Sparks of an exceptional spirit that appear here and there in the Letters.

Recife 1968


Firstly, there is the São José dos Manguinhos Episcopal Palace on Avenida Rui Barbosa, a manor built by Viscount of Loyo, Recife, a successful Recife merchant in the 19th century (Dom Pedro II handed out the titles of Earl, Baron, and Viscount left and right to better control his immense empire), with many mango trees. There is, next door, the São José dos Manguinhos Church, as there usually is in rich people's manors. In the early 20th century, the Archdiocese acquires the manor and transforms it into an episcopal residence. Everything in the traditional ecclesiastical style.

There is, secondly, more towards the historic centre of the city, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção das Fronteiras, on the edge of an estate granted by the King of Portugal in 1656 to the mestizo soldier Henrique Dias, a fighter alongside the Portuguese in the war against the Dutch that resulted in the restoration of Pernambuco. Emperor Pedro II visited the site in 1859 and gave it the title of Imperial Chapel. The Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife regained this Chapel after the war of the guilds. But, in 1968, that's all in the past. The Fronteiras Church serves as a chapel for women religious and has, like all chapels, a sacristy and a base for the chaplain.

The scenic contrast between Manguinhos and Fronteiras is reminiscent of the contrast between the Vatican and the Catacombs. Helder leaves the Manguinhos "latifundio" to go live "in my house", in Fronteiras.

Reading the Circular Letters of the year 1968 was a surprise for me. Even knowing the works of Helder Camara because of having worked with him for over 16 years (between 1964 and 1980), reading the Circular Letters was a surprise to me. What wealth! So many new things!

Here I make one more observation. I appreciate the invitation of you who gave me the opportunity to get into these circulars. Thank you especially to the compilers, transcribers and editors of the Letters: Luis Carlos Marques and Roberto de Araújo Faria (vol. I), Zildo Rocha (vols. II, III, IV) and Daniel Sigal (vols. III and IV), who have done and continue to do work of inestimable value.

The circulars of the year 1968 are found in Books 1 and 2 of Volume IV. It's the year of the move from the Manguinhos Palace to the sacristy. A move that not only has consequences for the bishop's personal life, but also for the life of the Archdiocese.

In personal terms, Helder dispenses with the private car, the private secretary, ready meals on time, the Manguinhos cook. Henceforth, his menu is precarious. In the morning, the Fronteiras Sisters fix him breakfast. At noon, he eats lunch at the Colégio das Damas on Avenida Rui Barbosa, and at night he's on his own. His bedroom includes a bed and a chair. He comments: "I live with two dead and a Living One (Jesus in the tabernacle). There is a lounge to receive people and write his circulars by night. It has a round table, three chairs and, in the back, a stretched out hammock. On the walls, a few souvenirs of trips and some strong texts.

1. In the January 5 to 6, 1968 circular (no. 344), Helder shows himself to be enthusiastic about the move (p. 295), planned for the day of Saint Sebastian (1/21), which doesn't happen because of the failure to remove two graves and arrangements behind the altar (p. 317). He knows that this move is leading to a remodeling of the functions of some buildings of the Archdiocese. The bishop's dream is that both Manguinhos (which he calls "the latifundio", "too much of a house for a single tiny bishop", see p. 383) and the old episcopal palace in Olinda will hereinafter be referred to as "Houses of the People". Camaragibe, "the aircraft carrier" (p. 312), would be sold and the financial fund thus created would be used "in large part for a low-income housing scheme."

But his aides don't have such lofty ideas. In fact, the bishop's plans to move involve a complex accommodation of buildings. There is also, at the same time, the decision that touches the lives of seminarians. From now on, the program is that they live in "small communities among the people." All this messes with Manguinhos, the episcopal Palace in Olinda, the Olinda seminary, the building on Rua do Jiriquiti, Camaragibe. While the aides are pondering the real possibilities, Helder continues speaking of Houses of the People. He dreams of giving homes to shelter homeless people. Why maintain two throne rooms at the Manguinhos "latifundio" while homeless people are sleeping on the veranda? The bishop is saddened when his aides are forced to find a guard to monitor the lives of those who sleep on the veranda; he's afraid that this guard will come to use violence and might come to shoot at someone.

2. Ten days later, in Circular 348 (1/16-17/68), he writes that the core team of the seminary now lives "on high" (the first floor) of the House of the People, with some teachers, while the colonial Seminary of Olinda has turned into a Training Center for Leaders for Northeast II (Eugênio Sales style). What complicates everything is that Rome doesn't like the idea of seminarians living "among the people." Cardinal Garrone writes a letter to that effect and sends Monsignor Pavarello to Recife to verify the situation "in loco." This Monsignor stays a long time and reaps much information.

3. On the night of March 13 to 14 (Circular 375) comes the definitive news: when the day breaks, I'm moving to Fronteiras. This is a "complete sign": "selling Manguinhos and investing the money for the advancement of God's children dehumanized by destitution." In the same letter appears a first description of the new dwelling with an assessment of what the bishop likes most -- doors without locks, windows without bars, a small entryway through the garden, "under construction", the wooden bed (the Manguinhos one was gilded bronze), the company, at bedtime, of two dead (tombs) and a Living One (tabernacle).

4. On the 14th day of March of 1968, at 19 hours, Helder enters the new house (p. 40). From now on, his daily routes change: from Fronteiras to Manguinhos, from Manguinhos to Damas (on the same avenue, for lunch), from Damas back to Manguinhos and at the end of the day from Manguinhos to Fronteiras. His transportation depends on taxis, but in reality there is no taxi driver who wants to charge him for the trip (p. 52). This information is repeated on 5/22-23/68.

5. Fifteen days later, in the 3/27-28/68 circular (IV, 1, 59) comes a new proof that the bishop likes the new house: in the bedroom, the little window with a bolt that shows where the Tabernacle is (where the Living One dwells), the embrasure above that "leaves a patch of sky to view, like a beautiful little star" (later he points out that embrasure to me and says "how easy it is to throw a bomb through there"), the window without bars that gives on another garden, behind the living room, the round table where he can write his circulars during the evenings, the roses in the garden, the three thermos bottles (hot tea, cold drinks, water) that the sisters leave ready, as well as glass jars with cookies, etc. Anyway, Helder likes the new abode. This is very clear.

In all this, the bishop follows to the letter the first commitment of the Pact of the Catacombs: "Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the ordinary manner of our people (Mt 5:3, 6:33f, 8-20)." For me, he is one of those following with greatest fidelity the commitments made in the Pact, although comparative data is needed to substantiate this opinion. We have only partial information (from Antônio Fragoso, José Maria Pires, Valdir Calheiros, etc.).

Today we are on hallowed ground


Today we are here at Fronteiras, on hallowed ground, 50 years after the Pact of the Catacombs in Rome and 47 years after Bishop Helder Camara moved here. We feel responsibility, because many among us, like myself personally, have been eyewitnesses to what I have just related through reading the circulars. One way or another, the words of John's Gospel apply to us:

He came as a witness,
to bear witness to the light
(Jn 1:7)

Helder Camara is for us like the one sent by God in the prologue of the Gospel of John. He bore witness to the light and we must bear witness too, as the Gospel itself says:

And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the beginning
(Jn 15:27).

This is the evidence of one who saw it -- true evidence (Jn. 19:35).

Our meeting here is not just a commemoration, it's a responsibility. We have to "bear witness" these days about what happened here between 1968 and 1999, and is still going on in our lives. From now on, it's not about the physical person of Helder Câmara, but his spirit that is still alive and pervades the place where we are. What can we do?

1. I will explain through history. The Vatican is not the Catacomb and Manguinhos is not Fronteiras. What does the Vatican symbolize? Historically there is no doubt: the Vatican symbolizes the misuse of money from the poor. Pilgrims, over many centuries, have deposited huge sums of money in the so-called tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome. This has been, until today, the base of the Vatican -- not just of the splendid palaces, but also the vast court of monsignors, eminences, the purple-clad and mitred. Much of this wealth is being shamefully diverted in many cases, as recent facts have proven. What does Manguinhos symbolize? Opulence surrounded by poverty, honorific titles, arrogance. I don't know of any scandals linked to Manguinhos, but even so I think it is a counter-sign in gospel terms, a bishop residing in a palace.

What was a catacomb, historically? It was a worthy tomb for all slaves, whether Christians or not. That was the policy of the managers of the catacombs like Calixto, who came to be elected pope in the 3rd century. To opt for the Catacomb is to opt for a lifestyle that gives a chance to all, above any cloister. You understand that I'm talking about something practical. When Helder opted for Fronteiras, he really chose a way of life that doesn't fit in with a palace, honor, prestige, but with a commitment to the weakest of society.

2. Of course, everything depends on the specific conditions of our lives. We are not bishops or priests. Perhaps we aren't Catholic either and yet we are witnesses of Helder Câmara and the Pact of the Catacombs. The symbolism is clear; it means a way of living and acting that stands out from a lifestyle oriented towards profit and accumulation of money. Each and every one of us can do something. There is no rule that applies to all. Each and every one of us must see what we can do. The bishops left the palace, some got around without a private car (as Helder did), sometimes they dispensed with their cook (as Helder did), they renounced honors and personal bank accounts. And we, what do we do in practical life?

It's not easy to live out the Pact of the Catacombs today. Two things, I think, can help us: (1) spirituality; (2) participation in a group of Christian inspiration.

1. Spirituality

When Volume I, 1 of the Circulares was launched, Zildo Rocha gave a beautiful address titled "The role of the vigil in the spirituality of Dom Helder." In it, Zildo asserted that all of Helder's days rested on two points -- the Mass and the vigil. Two moments that put the bishop's life "in a perspective of eternity" and put us in the face of God. José Comblin said the same thing here in this place in 2001: Helder is first and foremost a mystic. Reading the circulars has convinced me of the same. Each letter begins with a spiritual reflection. I don't know if he's commenting on past liturgy or the next day's liturgy, I didn't check that. But I have noticed that, for him, spirituality comes first. Without talking with his father God, his brother Jesus, his guardian angel Joseph, Helder would not have endured so many defeats, so much failure. His day was an offshoot of the Mass and the vigil.

I see Helder entering the synagogue in Nazareth and unrolling the text of Isaiah, as is reported in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
Through Him I have been designated (the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Chosen One) to proclaim good news to the poor.
Sent by Him, I declare freedom to the prisoners,
To the blind that they will see again,
To the oppressed that they will be forgiven.
(see Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6)

When Jesus says he's with the "poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3), he's refering to Isaiah 57:15:

I am with the defeated
The humiliated spirits
I revive the spirit of the humble
I revive the heart of the defeated.


That is the biblical spirituality of Helder Camara, which gave him the strength to bear an episcopate full of problems with the political dictatorship (one priest dead, others exiled) and at the same time with the Vatican (a dubious Pope Paul VI, irresolute colleagues in the episcopate).

In the Fronteiras living room, I read the following framed message:

When the night is darkest
Closer is the dawn.


2. Participation in a group of Christian inspiration

Psychology teaches that without a group, lasting action cannot be sustained. That's what Helder experiences after the sensational success of his journeys in the first part of the 1970s. Everywhere massive enthusiasm at the time. Then nothing. It was hard for a man of stage and microphone, the center of the scene and large gatherings, to realize that his ideas about unification of the universities around ideas of liberation, etc. were coming to nothing, just as Vatican II in many respects came to nothing. "How hard it is to break structures," he complained. It was in such disillusionment that Helder discovered the strength of minorities, of the "Abrahamic" minorities. This is a happy expression because it encompasses many movements -- in addition to Christianity, it goes to Judaism and Islam, and even beyond. Physical groups (such as Igreja Nueva ["New Church"]) or virtual groups, such as those that are forming around Alder Calado in Paraiba, Adital in Ceará, Somos Iglesia in Chile, Amerindia, and many others, which are getting bigger and bigger.

Also a word about groups formed by women. We must not forget that we owe the Circular Letters to the fact that Helder, since his days in Rio de Janeiro, always related to his "Mecejana family", a group of women such as Cecilia Monteiro [his secretary], Marina Bandeira [member of the CNBB National Justice and Peace Commission and Camara's collaborator] and others. To this day, the clerical Church has been skidding because it doesn't understand the power of women, which has manifested itself so clearly by the worldwide acceptance of birth control pills since 1961. The Synod which was held in October went nowhere because the Synod Fathers still don't understand the power of women, or rather, they don't understand that women also reveal God. If they, since 1962, haven't listened to the priests anymore, it's because something is wrong with the priests' teaching. The popes are distressed, but they should learn from Helder Camara who showed that women help free the Church from the pope.

To conclude, I repeat what I said at the beginning: Fronteiras is not a museum, it's not just a place of memory. Fronteiras is the burning bush. Here burns the flame that turned Moses into a liberator of his people and Helder Camara into a bishop on the Borders, that is, without borders. It's not just a place to visit, it's a place that reminds us of the truly important things in our lives.

Translator's Note: Dom Helder Camara's circular letters have been published in their original Portuguese in multiple volumes by Companhia Editora de Pernambuco in Brazil. See the Instituto Dom Helder website for price and contact information for hard copies. The collections are also available electronically via Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (Nook).

  • Volume I: Conciliar Circulars (3 books - Oct. 1962-Dec. 1965)
  • Volume II: Interconciliar Circulars (3 books - Apr. 1964-Sep. 1965)
  • Volume III: Post-conciliar Circulars (3 books - Dec. 1965-Jul. 1967)
  • Volume IV: Post-conciliar Circulars (4 books - Aug. 1967-Jan. 1970)

2 comments:

  1. Rebel Girl
    Thanks so much for your translation of the article by Eduardo Hoornaert one of my favourate Historian of the early church. I do appreciate all your posts.

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  2. Reading this took me back! I knew Helder Camara and Eduardo when I was a seminarian in Olinda in the late 1960's. I frequently met Helder Camara on the bus and visited his house in Fronteiras as I had contacts with the English publishers of his writings. I have a vivid memory of helping to protect Helder as we took the coffin of a murdered young priest through a line of machine-gun wielding soldiers who stood in our way to the cemetery. Terence Lewis, Ludlow, UK.

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