Liberation theologian Gutiérrez says hope takes work

posted 31 Oct 2008, 02:53 by Stefan Gigacz   [ updated 31 Oct 2008, 03:05 ]
“Hope is a gift, but you don’t receive that gift if you’re not creating resources for it,” Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez told NCR's John L. Allen Jr. in Chicago. “Reasons for hope don’t just drop from the sky. They come from below, from what people are doing or not doing.”

Peruvian Gutiérrez was addressing a conference titled “Transformed by Hope: Building a Catholic Social Theology for the Americas,” sponsored by the Catholic Theological Union and DePaul University.

The conference marks the 40th anniversary of the famous meeting of the Latin American bishops in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, which gave rise to the Catholic church’s “preferential option for the poor” -- a social commitment recently reaffirmed during the 2007 conference of the Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil. Coincidentally, 2008 also marks 35 years since the first translation of Gutiérrez’s famous book, A Theology of Liberation, into English.

Allen says that Gutiérrez, now 80, expressed discomfort with the label of being the “father” of liberation theology, widely seen as the most important theological current in the developing world during the second half of the 20th century. Instead, Gutiérrez said, he sees himself as a “nephew” of liberation theology -- a movement which seeks to align the church with the poor in struggles for social change.

The “preferential option for the poor,” Gutiérrez said this morning, isn’t just a spiritual disposition. It necessarily requires effort to transform unjust structures.

“Our commitment to persons suffering from poverty implies a rejection of the situations which create that suffering,” Gutiérrez said. He stressed that this is hardly an insight unique to liberation theology, citing the French writer Paul Ricoeur in the 1930s that “we are not really with the poor if we are not against poverty.”

“You don’t need a complicated theology to realize this,” Gutiérrez said. “It’s enough to read the Bible.”

Gutiérrez noted that many observers were surprised by the fairly ringing endorsement of liberation theology and the “preferential option for the poor” at Aparecida, given the reservations expressed over the years by the Vatican and the lukewarm climate during the 1992 meeting of Latin American bishops at Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Gutierrez was part of the conference, “Transformed by Hope: Building a Catholic Social Theology for the Americas,” sponsored by DePaul and Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (Photo by David V. Kamba)“For someone who is far from the daily life of the church in Latin America, who knows it only by reading about its problems in the newspapers, then perhaps Aparecida was a surprise,” Gutiérrez said. “But for those who know the reality, it was not a surprise.”

Among other things, Gutiérrez noted that the bishops at Aparecida made efforts to reach out to several typically excluded groups, including indigenous persons, Afro-Americans in Latin America and the Caribbean, and women.

He cited three concrete examples from the Aparecida documents that, he said, reflect this contact with daily reality:

  • The “recuperation” of the “see/judge/act” method for assessing social reality, which had been adopted at Medellín but softened at Santo Domingo;
  • The “preferential option for the poor” was clearly understood as an expression of Christological faith;
  • Work for justice was seen as part of evangelization – not just an expression of it, or a consequence of it, but an internal part of what it means to evangelize.
Fr Gutiérrez is a former chaplain of the Young Christian Students (YCS) movement and has for a long time been associated with the Pax Romana ICMICA movement.

SOURCE: Liberation theologian Gutiérrez says hope takes work