Hélder Câmara

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Most Reverend
Hélder Câmara
Archbishop-Emeritus of Olinda e Recife
Helder Camara 1974.jpg
See Olinda e Recife (Emeritus)
Installed 12 March 1964
Term ended 2 April 1985
Predecessor Carlos Gouveia Coelho
Successor José Cardoso Sobrinho
Ordination 20 April 1952
by Jaime de Barros Câmara
Personal details
Birth name Hélder Pessoa Câmara
Born (1909-02-07)February 7, 1909
Fortaleza, Brazil
Died August 27, 1999(1999-08-27) (aged 90)
Recife, Brazil
Nationality Brazilian
Denomination Roman Catholic
Coat of arms

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara (Portuguese: [dõ ˈɛwdeɾ peˈsoɐ ˈkɐ̃mɐɾɐ]; February 7, 1909 – August 27, 1999) was Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, serving from 1964 to 1985 during the military regime of the country.

An advocate of liberation theology, he is remembered for the aphorism, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born Hélder Pessoa Câmara in Fortaleza, Ceará, in the poor Northeast Region of Brazil. His father was an accountant and his mother a primary school teacher.[2] He went to local Catholic schools and decided to become a priest, completing seminary.


Hélder Câmara in 1984

After his appointment as the 'Bishop of Corum,' Câmara was known for his clear position on the side of the urban poor.[3] With other clerics, he encouraged peasants to think beyond their conventionally fatalistic outlook by studying the gospels in small groups and asking what conclusions could be drawn for social change. In 1959 he founded Banco da Providência in Rio de Janeiro, a philanthropic organization to fight poverty and social injustice by making it easier for poor people to receive loans.[4]

Under the guidance of archbishop Hélder Câmara, the Catholic church in Brazil became an outspoken critic of the 1964-85 military dictatorship and a powerful movement for social change.[4] Câmara spoke out and wrote about the implications of using violence to repress rebellion resulting from poverty and injustice in other venues than Brazil.

A proponent of liberation theology, he was Archbishop of the Diocese of Olinda and Recife from 1964 to 1985, during a period when the country had a series of military rulers. Liberation theology politicised the church's charitable work and brought criticisms that it was encouraging the armed revolutionary struggles that swept Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.[4]

He published Spiral of Violence (1971), a short tract written when the United States was immersed in a still escalating Vietnam War. It is distinctive for linking structural injustice (Level 1 violence) with escalating rebellion (Level 2 violence) and repressive reaction (Level 3 violence). In it, Câmara called on the youth of the world to take steps to break the spiral, saying their elders became addicted to those escalating steps. By the early 21st century, this book had been out of print in the United Kingdom for about 20 years. A scanned version in English is available on the web at the link given below.

Legacy and honors[edit]

He died, aged 90, in Recife.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quote: "Quando dou comida aos pobres chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres chamam-me de comunista." – cited in Zildo Rocha, Helder, O Dom: uma vida que marcou os rumos da Igreja no Brasil (Helder, the Gift: A Life that Marked the Course of the Church in Brazil), Page 53, Editora Vozes, 2000, ISBN 85-326-2213-5, ISBN 978-85-326-2213-6 – 208 pages (Portuguese)
  2. ^ O'Shaughnessy, Hugh. "Helder Câmara – Brazil's archbishop of the poor", The Guardian, October 13, 2009
  3. ^ `Bishop of the slums', Links (Australia)
  4. ^ a b c Bellos, Alex. "Helder Camara" (obit), The Guardian, August 31, 1999
  5. ^ Nobel Peace Prize nominations. American Friends Service Committee
  • Regan, David. C.S.Sp Why Are They Poor?: Helder Camara in Pastoral Perspective. Münster: Lit, [2002?].

External links[edit]