Today marks the centenary of the birth of the great Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara who was born in Fortaleza Brazil on 7 February 1909.
Very conservative as a young man, he later became known as a leader of Brazil's progressive Catholic Church. Under the influence of French philosopher, Jacques Maritain, he shifted his views.
He was transferred from Fortaleza to Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s and by the 1950s was a well known social organiser.
It was probably during this period that he came under the influence of Joseph Cardijn and the jocist movement.
In 1952 he became an auxiliary bishop in Rio de Janeiro and was soon named director of Catholic Action in Brazil.
Bishop Camara was instrumental in the founding of CELAM, the Episcpal Conference of Latin America, and was its secretary-general from 1952-1964.
In 1964 he was named archbishop of Olinda and Recife in which post he remained until his retirement in 1985 when he was replaced by conservative Archbishop Jose Sobrinho Cardoso.
During the 1960s - the beginning of the Brazilian dictatorship period - Dom Helder became known as the "bishop of the favelas (slums). In 1969, paramilitary forces killed one of his young priests and in 1970, he publicly denounced the torture regime of the military dictatorship.
Concerning these experiences, Dom Helder lamented In one of his iconic sayings that "when I give food to the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist".
World Social Forum co-founder, Chico Whitaker, recounts his experience of working with "Dom Helder" during this period. Whitaker notes Dom Helder's involvement in the local preparation and implementation of Vatican II.
But Bishop Camara was also influential at the Council itself in propagating the idea of the "Church of the poor".
He died on 28 August 1999.
Helder Camara (Wikipedia)
Helder Camara Timeline (Helmut Zenz) (German)
Obituary: Faith, power and the poor (Kenneth Serbin)
Bishop van de armen is nog niet vergeten (Kerknet, Belgium)