Two Brazilian witnesses for faith and nonviolence

Today I’d like to recall two Brazilian witnesses for faith and nonviolence.

Dom Helder Câmara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil, defender of the poor, apostle of nonviolence, born on February 7, 1909, in Fortaleza, Brazil. He died in 1999.

This small frail man was such a threat to the Brazilian dictatorship that for several years it was not permitted to mention his name in the press or other medias of communication.

I saw him once at a “coffee shop” and center run by the Fellowship of Reconciliation at the 1982 United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament. I can’t remember what he said and he spoke in English with a very strong accent. But I remember most of all his enthusiasm with wide gestures. Looking back they make me recall his large heart and his love for all people and, indeed, for all creation. But he also could speak very forthrightly, denouncing injustice wherever he encountered it:

“I used to think when I was a child, that Christ might have been exaggerating when He warned about the dangers of wealth. Today I know better. I know how very hard it is to be rich and still keep the milk of human kindness. Money has a dangerous way of putting scales on one’s eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people’s hands, eyes, lips, and hearts. That is the source of my conviction that it is both democratic and Christian to bolster human frailty with a balanced, firm, and just moral pressure based on nonviolent action.”

On February 7, 1988, Dominique Barbé, O.P., a French Dominician missionary to Brazil, peacemaker, died. He too was an advocate of nonviolence in the face of injustice and oppression. He saw his role as a missionary for the nonviolent reign of God. As he wrote:

“A missionary, an evangelist, is a person sent to destroy the structures of selfishness and to build the structures of sharing. This happens on three levels: the level of the individual, the community, and the society. It is like three intersecting wheels: the circle of personal life, the circle of community of the followers of Christ, and the circle of society.”

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