Remembering Dom Hélder Camara


“I love hearing the apostles ask: ‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’ we may sometimes think we’ve learnt how to pray already. All the same, knowing the Lord’s Prayer off by heart isn’t enough. The important thing is to learn to live the prayer the Lord has taught us.

“Beginning with ‘Our Father.’ Are we really convinced that God is the Father of us all? Not merely ‘my’ Father, but ‘our’ Father. If he is ‘ours’, then we are all brother and sisters. People with the same father are brothers and sisters.

“It is very easy at mass to say, ‘Peace be with you’ to the person standing next to you; but after that we each go home and the other person is forgotten. If the other people were really our brothers and sisters and we knew they were ill, in misery, perhaps even dying of hunger, we would do all we possibly could for them, and more…

“Then again, when we say, ‘Thy will be done.’ It’s easy enough to accept God’s will when it coincides with our own. We know exactly how to ask the Lord for things, but the Lord had better look out and agree with what we want. And on no account should the Lord think or want anything different.

“And yet, very often, what we ask for isn’t what is good for us. We are like little children, as far as the Lord is concerned. A father knows better than to give his child the knife it wants to play with, or to let it go down the stairs on its own.

“You know the prayer I love to say? ‘Lord, may your grace help me to want what you want, to prefer what you prefer…’ Want what you want… Prefer what you prefer… For, honestly, what do we know? We ought to do everything as though all depended on us, at the same time putting ourselves into the Lord’s hands, knowing that our own strength lies in offering him our weaknesses.
“We really need to learn to live Christ’s prayer…..”

Dom Hélder Camara, Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, Brazil, died on August 27, 1999, at 90 years of age.  The twelfth of 13 children, son of a bookkeeper and a grade school teacher, he became one of the most loved and, at the same time, most opposed persons of Brazil in this century.  With his death, his image gains new stature.

Dom Helder, as he was known, was internationally acknowledged as “a man of God and a defender of the poor.”  In the 60’s and the 70’s, he was with Pele, the soccer player, the Brazilian most known throughout the world.

That small frail man, to whom it applied the sobriquet of “the red bishop,” was a source of embarrassment for the military regime.  Under the pretext of national and personal security, Dom Helder was for many years subjected to endless interrogations and threats.  The personal protection he refused saying, “I don’t need you gentlemen, I have my own security guards.  They are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  As to his supposed threat to the national security, endlessly he would declare that he was no communist, no Marxist, and no subversive.  “I feed the poor, I’m called a saint.  I ask why the poor have no food, I’m called a communist.”
He raised his voice when many held their silence.  So he was silenced.  From 1970 and for 13 years hence, in a miserly attitude which is habitual to dictators, the government banned him from any public spaking and forbade even the publication of his name in any media.  Exiled in his own country.

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