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A New Saint on the Horizon: Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Câmara

The Vatican advances the saintly cause of Servant of God Herder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife (Brazil).

He may at once be called “honorable”.

Twenty-three years after his death, Kamala is one of the most iconic figures in advocating for the homeless, unemployed and landless.

However, this was not always the case.

The archbishop was one of the founders of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. He was named Olinda and Recife in 1964. This was three weeks before he began a military coup in Brazil that started a 20-year dictatorship.

A few days after the coup, he released a manifesto supporting the actions of Catholic workers in Recife.

The new military government accused him of being a demagogue and a communist. He was forbidden to speak in public.

He did anyway – and exposed the administration for what it was.

“If I give bread to the poor, everyone will call me a saint. We call it,” Kamala was quoted as saying at the time.

There were two main jobs in the social and political sphere.

One was advocating for social justice on the world’s most unequal continent.

Another was the conflict between his country and the dictatorships of other countries around Brazil.

He continued to strongly criticize the regime and denounced human rights abuses by police authorities. He has written several books on this topic.

In 1972 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. By 1985, having retired, he is known to have organized his over 500 basic church communities that used Bible study and prayer to address social and economic problems.

“Slums” in his mind

From the time he moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1936 until his death, Camara was interested in the lives of people living in the miserable regions (favelas) of Brazil.

As Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro (1952) and later Archbishop of Olinda and Recife (1964-1985), he had a great influence on the media. There were several times when the junta wanted to end his life.

In 2015, 16 years after his death, the canonization process began. After that, with the permission of the Holy See, he was given the title of Servant of God.

On December 26, 2017, he was declared a “Brazilian Human Rights Defender” by federal law.

This was ratified by the State of Pernambuco, where he would carry out most of his ministers.

When asked why he had to abandon the Apostolic Palace and live in a poor neighborhood, Dom Herder (as Kamala was commonly known) replied:

The beatification process of Kamala Diocese began in 2014. In 2015 he received the title of “Servant of God”.

For many Brazilians, Kamala’s persecuted and now vindicated human rights advocacy means he can become an advocate for the poor church and the poor.


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