Dom Helder Câmara was one of the most amazing bishops in Latin America in the twentieth century. He served the archdiocese of Recife in northeast Brazil, one of the poorest parts of the country at that time. He defended – nonviolently – the poor and marginalized.
This diminutive man, under 5 feet tall, was the scourge of the Brazilian dictatorship. He was so feared that for many years it was forbidden to mention his name in Brazilian newspapers. Once he greeted a man sent to assassinate him who went away saying that he could not kill a man of God.
But that didn’t stop the killing of others. Fr. Enrique Pereira Neto, co-worker with Dom Helder, was killed, in Recife, Brazil, on May 26, 1969.
There is a prayer of his that has moved me for many years after I first read it in the 1970s.
do not smile and say you are already with us.
Millions do not know you,
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point of your presence
if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives,
shatter our complacency.
Make your word our life’s purpose.
Take away the quietness of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,