Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fetters of Injustice, Dom Helder Camara

Bio: Dom Helder Camara, the Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, is one of the most respected spokesmen for non-violent revolution in the world today. His refusal to allow violence as a means for social change is most convincing, since his experience has been with the oppressed of the Third World. The following selection * is the text of a talk delivered in Geneva in January 1970 to the World Council of Church’s Consultation on Ecumenical Assistance for Develop­ment Projects.


"You have the joy of being men of faith, Christians. It is therefore important that I tell you that this message of mine is the outcome of prayer and personal intercession. Just because it sums up a great deal of my own experience as a shepherd in the Church in the northeast of Brazil (one of the most discussed and most traumatized places in the world), I asked Christ not to let me transmit a view which is too impassioned and too personal.

There are far more than two or three of us gathered here in his name; the master is therefore here in our midst. In every thought and word I shall bear in mind that he is present with us, listening to us, and that he will judge the statements that we make and the proposals that we submit.

I thank our Father for this atmosphere of faith, which enables me to speak to you as if I were standing before the supreme judge and rendering account to him of my thoughts, words, actions and omissions, when speaking to you about “development projects and concern for structural changes.

The present situation of mankind may be described briefly and objectively as follows: a sad reality, with marvelous prospects, yet the possibility (even the probability) of a tragic conclusion.

It is a sad fact that, according to the statement of the Beirut Conference (1968), 80% of the world’s resources are at the disposal of 20% of the world’s inhabitants: “While one segment of humanity is rich and growing richer, the rest will struggle in varying degrees of poverty and have little certainty of breaking out of their stagnation in the next decades.”

The prospects are marvelous because, as we all know, for the first time in history, man is in a position to fulfill the command of the creator to dominate nature and to complete his work of creation. For the first time the technological resources available could enable us “to promote the good of every man and of the whole man.”
The conclusion may be (and probably will be) tragic, owing to the blindness of the privileged 20% of mankind, who think it “normal” to spend 150 billion dollars per annum on armaments, but can hardly scrape together 10 billion for economic and social cooperation (to quote again from the Beirut Report).

Our responsibility as Christians makes us tremble. The northern hemisphere, the developed area of the world, the 20% who possess 80% of the world’s resources, are of Christian origin. What impression can our African and Asian brethren and the masses in Latin America have of Christianity, if the tree is to be judged by its fruits? For we Christians are largely responsibile for the unjust world in which we live.

Christianity is invoked in order to lead a sort of crusade against Communism. Christianity is invoked in order to combat the wave of hatred, deep-rooted resentment and terror which is rising every where. But what do the 20% who let 80% stagnate in a situation which is often sub-human—what right have they to allege that Communism crushes the human person? The 20% who are keeping 80% in a situation which is often sub-human—are they or are they not responsible for the violence and hatred which are beginning to break out all over the world?

During the course of centuries the injustices have become more and more firmly entrenched, and have perpetuated themselves to such an extent that we have come to accept them as the “social order” which should he defended and safeguarded. While all this was going on, we Christians have detached ourselves from the problems of this world to such an extent that we have made it easier for injustice to take root."

"What social order are people talking about? The one that we see today, that consists in leaving millions of God’s children in miserable poverty, should rather be called social disorder, systematized injustice. Private ownership? Is it not evident to everyone that on this point we Christians have abandoned the Fathers of the Church, and that we have ended by attributing divine right to private ownership, whereas God’s law says that the wealth of the world should be shared by all, and should never form odious, oppressive monopolies?"

"You have certainly observed what follies and cruelties are committed on the pretext of preventing subversion and combatting Communism.

The first consequence is that existing structures are maintained — structures in which centuries of violence are entrenched, for they protect the privileges of a minority at the expense of the poverty of millions. Totalitarian methods are adopted; informers are encouraged everyone suspects everyone else; liberty is completely suspended including freedom of speech. The atmosphere is one of complete insecurity, arbitrary imprisonment; moral and physical torture ate employed in order to extort confessions."

"It is inconvenient for the rich countries to work out effective changes in the socio-economic, political or cultural structures of the poor countries, for the very simple reason that the latter would then no longer need to provide the raw materials essential for the administration and expansion of the developing economies.

We should not delude ourselves: a change in structure in the underdeveloped countries is not possible without a change in structure in the developed countries. The expression must be taken literally. I do not mean merely a change in mentality with regard to the poor countries. I mean a profound change in international commercial policy. How much longer are we going to permit inter national trusts to make small groups of men fabulously wealthy, while they keep millions of others in slavery? I do not want to be told that modern corporations are becoming democratic because millions and millions of ordinary people are becoming shareholders and thus have control over the concern. Shareholders, yes, in the sense that they hold a few meager shares, but without any say in the management of the corporation, which is carried out anonymously, impassively and coldly by a group of people who do not mind coming face to face with those they have crushed."

"Therefore, let us render this service in the cause of peace: without measuring the sacrifices, try to prove that truth, love and faith, with the divine blessing, are capable of moving and breaking down the walls of Jericho."

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