|Liberation Theology|
How are we to be Christians in a world of destitution and injustice? There can be only one answer: we can be followers of Jesus and true Christians only by making common cause with the poor and working out the gospel of liberation...

One day, in the arid region of northeastern Brazil, one of the most famine-stricken parts of the world, I (Clodovis) met a bishop going into his house; he was shaking. "Bishop, what's the matter?" I asked. He replied that he had just seen a terrible sight: in front of the cathedral was a woman with three small children and a baby clinging to her neck. He saw that they were fainting from hunger. The baby seemed to be dead. He said: "Give the baby some milk woman!" "I can't, my lord," she answered. The bishop went on insisting that she should, and she that she could not. Finally, because of his insistence, she opened her blouse. Her breast was bleeding; the baby sucked violently at it. And sucked blood. The mother who had given it life was feeding it, like a pelican, with her own blood, her own life. The bishop knelt down in front of the woman, placed his hand on the baby's head, and there and then vowed that as long as such hunger existed, he would feed at least one hungry child each day...

There is a failure to see that the poor are oppressed and made poor by others; and what they do possess - strength to resist, capacity to understand their rights, to organize themselves and transform a subhuman situation - tends to be left out of account. Aid increases the dependence of the poor, tying them to help from others, to decisions made by others: again not enabling them to become their own liberators.

"Reformism" seeks to improve the situation of the poor but always within existing social relationships and the basic structuring of society, which rules out greater participation by all and diminution in the privileges enjoyed by the ruling classes... For example, in 1964 the Brazilian economy ranked 46th in the world; in 1984 it ranked 8th. The last twenty years have seen undeniable technological and industrial progress, but at the same time there has been a considerable worsening of social conditions for the poor, with exploitation, destitution, and hunger on a scale previously unknown in Brazilian history...

The poor can break out of their situation of oppression only by working out a strategy better able to change social conditions: the strategy of liberation...

Liberation is emerging as the strategy of the poor themselves, confident in themselves and in their instruments of struggle: free trade unions, peasant organizations, local associations, action groups and study groups, popular political parties, base Christian communities. They are being joined by groups and individuals from other social classes who have opted to change society and join the poor in their struggle to bring about change.

The growth of regimes of "national security" (for which read "capital security"), of military dictatorships, with their repression of popular movements in many countries of Latin America, is a reaction against the transforming and liberating power of the organized poor.

...Inspired by their faith - which must include commitment to one's neighbor, particularly to the poor, if it is to be true (Matt. 25:31-46) - and motivated by the proclamation of the kingdom of God - which begins in this world and culminates only in eternity - and by the life, deeds, and death of Christ, who made a historic option for the poor, and by the supremely liberating significance of his resurrection, many Christians - bishops, priests, religious, nuns, lay men and women - are throwing themselves into action alongside the poor, or joining the struggles already taking place...

Christianity can no longer be dismissed as the opium of the people, nor can it be seen as merely fostering an attitude of critique: it has now become an active commitment to liberation...

The gospel is not aimed chiefly at "modern" men and women with their critical spirit, but first and foremost at "nonpersons," those whose basic dignity and rights are denied them. This leads to reflection in a spirit of prophecy and solidarity aimed at making nonpersons full human beings, and then new men and women, according to the design of the "new Adam," Jesus Christ.

...Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who had been conservative in his views, became a great advocate and defender of the poor when he stood over the dead body of Fr. Rutilio Grande, assassinated for his liberating commitment to the poor. The spilt blood of the martyr acted like a salve on his eyes, opening them to the urgency of the task of liberation. And he himself was to follow to a martyr's death in the same cause.

Commitment to the liberation of the millions of the oppressed of our world restores to the gospel the credibility it had at the beginning and at the great periods of holiness and prophetic witness in history. The God who pitied the downtrodden and the Christ who came to set prisoners free proclaim themselves with a new face and in a new image today.

...as the prophet Jeremiah says: "He used to examine the cases of poor and needy, then all went well. Is not that what it means to know me? - it is Yahweh who speaks" (Jer. 22:16). So the criticisms made of liberation theology by those who judge it on a purely conceptual level, devoid of any real commitment to the oppressed, must be seen as radically irrelevant. Liberation theology responds to such criticism with just one question: What part have you played in the effective and integral liberation of the oppressed?

Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff, translated from Portuguese by Paul Burns, Introducing Liberation Theology, 1986, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.
|Book| "Starting in the 1960s, a great wind of renewal blew through the churches. They began to take their social mission seriously: lay persons committed themselves to work among the poor... More and more theologians became pastors too, militant agents of inspiration for the life of the church at its grass roots and those of society. It became usual to see theologians taking part in involved epistemological discussions in learned congresses, then leaving to go back to their bases among the people to become involved in matters of catechesis, trade union politics, and community organization."
A Concise History of Liberation Theology by Leonardo and Clodovis Boff. Liberation Theology and Land Reform
|The Land|
...the long-range Christian theology is to achieve a liberation that guarantees a self-sustained development that meets the real needs of the people, and not the consumerist needs of rich countries and groups associated with those countries.

The historical subjects of this liberation are the oppressed who must develop a consciousness of their oppressed situation, organize themselves, and take steps that will lead to a society that is less dependent and less subject to injustices. Other classes may, and should, join this project of the oppressed, but without trying to control it. In this way, beginning in the early seventies, countless young people, intellectuals, and a whole range of movements arose to make such a liberation viable. They made an option for the people; they began to enter the world of the poor, embracing their culture, giving expression to their claims, and organizing activities that were considered subversive by the forces of the status quo. More than a few took on the violence of urban guerillas and campesinos, and were violently repressed...

Later, after years of harsh repression, the bases of the Church took on exceptional importance both ecclesiologically and politically. This generally began with reading the Bible and proceeded to the creation of small or basic ecclesial communities (comunidades eclesiales de base)... As they became better organized and reflect more deeply, they come to the realization that the problems they encounter have a structural character. Their marginalization is seen as a consequence of elitist organization, private ownership, that is, of the very socioeconomic structure of the capitalist system... Christian faith directly seeks the ultimate liberation and freedom of the children of God in the Kingdom, but it also includes historical liberation as an anticipation and concretization of that ultimate liberation...

How do individuals move from the religious to the political? In general the two realities come together as one. To begin, the religious points up the injustices that God does not desire. Later the people proceed to an understanding of the true structures that produce such injustices, realizing that it is imperative to change those structures in order to keep them from generating such social sin...

Primarily, the base ecclesial community is more than an instrument by which the Church reaches the people and evangelizes them; it is a new and original way of living Christian faith, of organizing the community around the Word, around the sacraments (when possible), and around new ministries exercised by lay people (both men and women). There is a new distribution of power in the community; it is much more participatory and avoids all centralization and domination. The unity of faith and life, of Gospel and liberation, is given concrete form without the artificiality of institutional structures. It makes possible the rise of a rich ecclesial sacramentality (the entire Church as sacrament), with much creativity in its celebrations and a deep sense of the sacred - all belonging to the people...

The base ecclesial community is also the place where a true democracy of the people is practiced, where everything is discussed and decided together, where critical thought is encouraged. For a people who have been oppressed for centuries, whose "say" has always been denied, the simple fact of having a say is the first stage in taking control and shaping their own destiny. The comunidad eclesial de base thus transcends its religious meaning and takes on a highly political one.

...we are no longer speaking of a Church for the poor but rather a Church of and with the poor... The Church is directed toward all, but begins from the poor, from their desires and struggles.

...The Kingdom is certainly the Christian utopia that lies at the culmination of history. But it must be repeated that this Kingdom is found in the process of history wherever justice and fraternity are fostered and wherever the poor are respected and recognized as shapers of their own destiny.

Leonardo Boff, Church: Charism and Power, 1981, translated by John W. Diercksmeier, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.
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