Camara, Helder Pessoa
CAMARA, HELDER PESSOA
Archbishop of Olinda and Recife; b. Feb. 7, 1909, Fortaleza, Cearà, Brazil; d. Aug. 27, 1999. Born into a middle-class family, the eleventh of thirteen children of Joao Eduardo—bookkeeper, journalist, committed liberal, mason—and Adelaide, primary school teacher and practicing Catholic. In 1923, Camara entered the diocesan seminary of St. Joseph, and was ordained as priest Aug. 15, 1931. He took a keen interest in social movements, playing an active role in the creation of the Young Catholic Workers, the Unionizing of Catholic Women Workers, and the League of Catholic Teachers of Ceará,
of which he became ecclesiastical assistant. Attracted by integralismo, a political and ideological movement in the mold of fascism, he was given permission by his archbishop to become a member of the new party. In recognition of his contribution to the Catholic Electoral League's victories in 1933 and 1934, he was nominated director of public instruction for the State of Ceará.
Disillusioned with the direction taken by State politics, he accepted an invitation to work in Rio de Janeiro in the Ministry of Education and Culture. His move to Rio coincided with his developing political consciousness and, on a much deeper level, in his self-consciousness of his mission as a priest. His reading of Jacques Maritain's Integral Humanism contributed decisively to this process. Later he became the national vice-assistant to Brazilian Catholic Action. In 1952, with the support of the Vatican pro-secretary of state, Msgr. Montini (the future Pope Paul VI), he founded the Brazilian National Conference of Bishops (CNBB), of which he became general secretary, and was ordained bishop. In 1955, he was promoted to archbishop, while remaining auxiliary to the cardinal archbishop of Rio de Janeiro. In that same year he organized, with Mgr. Larraín, bishop of Talca, Chile, the First General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate (CELAM), and served as its vice-president from 1958 to 1965.
As auxiliary bishop in Rio, Camara undertook numerous social initiatives on the local level, while as secretary of the National Conference of Bishops he was the driving force behind attempts to promote a series of "basic reforms" through the cooperation of the Church, the unions, and the governments, especially the federal government. He coordinated the preparation of the Emergency Plan—taken on officially by the Brazilian episcopacy in 1962—which eventually became the Collective Pastoral Plan of the Brazilian bishops.
In 1964 the government of Brazil was seized by a military coup; that same year, Pope Paul VI appointed Camara residential archbishop of Olinda and Recife. He continued his active pastoral ministry, quickly becoming "enemy number one" of the country's conservative forces because of his growing acclaim among the international mass media, where he was the voice of the poor and of those persecuted by the regime. He received numerous international awards during his lifetime, and was four times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Among the many books he published as archbishop were Terzo mondo defraudato (Milan 1968), Spirale de violence (Paris 1970), Pour arriver à temps (Paris 1970), Le désert est fertile (Paris 1971), Prière pour les riches (Zurich 1972), Cristianismo, socialismo, capitalismo (Salamanca 1974), Um olhar sobre a cidade (Rio de Janeiro 1985), and Les conversions d'un Evêque: entretiens avec José de Broucker (Paris 1977).
He retired from his see in 1985, but continued to serve until his death in 1999, promoting the causes of peace and justice, including the world-wide campaign the Year 2000 without Misery. A brilliant orator and preacher, an efficient organizer, an indefatigable advocate of justice, a man of prayer, deeply in love with God and his creation, he became known, from the time of the council on, due to his many international conferences and sermons, as "bishop of the slums," "voice of the voiceless," "advocate of the Third World," "prophet of the Church of the Poor," "apostle of non-violence." It was for this reason he was accused by his opponents of being the "red archbishop."
Bibliography: j. de broucker, Dom Helder Camara: The Violence of a Peacemaker, tr. by h. briffault (Maryknoll, N.Y.1970). m. de castro, Dom Helder: o bispo da esperança (Rio de Janeiro 1978). j. l. gonzÁlez-balado, Helder Camara: L'arcivescovo rosso (Rome 1970). m. hall, The Impossible Dream: The Spirituality of Dom Helder Camara (Belfast 1979). g. weigner and b. moosbrugger, A Voice of the Third World: Dom Helder Camara (New York 1972).
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