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Some thoughts from Dom Helder Camara, “The Bishop of the Slums”


We are told that Abraham and other patriarchs heard the voice of God. Can we also hear the Lord’s call? Isn’t it pretentious to say this? Dangerously presumptuous?

We live in a world where millions of our fellow men and women live in inhuman conditions, practically in slavery. If we are not deaf we hear the cries of the oppressed. Their cries are the voice of God.

We who live in rich countries, where there are always pockets of underdevelopment and wretchedness, hear, if we want to hear, the unvoiced demands of those who have no voice and no hope. The pleas of those who have no voice and no hope are the voice of God.

Anyone who has become aware of the injustices caused by the unfair division of wealth, must, if they have heart, listen to the silent or violent protests of the poor. The protests of the poor are the voice of God. If we look at the relations between the poor countries and the capitalist and communist empires, we see that today injustice is not only done by one man to another, or by one group to another, but by one country to another. And the voice of the countries suffering these injustices is the voice of God.

In order to rouse us God makes use even of radical and violent rebellion. How can we not feel the urgent need to act when we see young people—sincere in their desire to fight injustice, but with violent means that only call down violent repression—show such courage in prison and under torture that it is difficult to believe that they are sustained only by materialist ideals. He who has eyes to see and ears to hear must feel challenged: how can we remain mediocre and ineffective when we have our faith to sustain us?

Are we so deaf that we do not hear a loving God warning us that humanity is in danger of committing suicide? Are we so selfish that we do not hear the just God demanding that we do all we can to stop injustice from suffocating the world and driving it to war? Are we so alienated that we can worship God at our ease in luxurious temples, which are often empty in spite of all their liturgical pomp, and fail to see, hear, and serve God where he is present and where he requires our presence, among human beings, the poor, the oppressed, the victims of injustices in which we ourselves are often involved?

It is not difficult to hear God’s call today in the world about us. It is difficult to do more than offer an emotional response, sorrow, and regret. It is even more difficult to give up our comfort, break with old habits, let ourselves be moved by grace and change our life, be converted.

Dem Helder Camara, The Desert is Fertile (1974), pp. 18-19.

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