The urgent need to return to being the church of the poor

[Editor's Note: This article was written in 2009 for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bishop Helder Camara, and it is published here with permission from the author. It was translated from the Spanish by Jesuit Fr. Joseph Owens]

Today, March 24, marks the 30th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador. Read the full report by


editor Pat Marrin here.

Envisioning the Church as "poor and powerless" has never prospered much among us. Not even Vatican II, as important and decisive as it was in other matters, made it a central concern. The Latin American bishops' conference at Medellín (1968) did indeed make it a key issue, and the Puebla conference (1979) also stressed it, even in the face of serious opposition. For the last three decades, however, the abandonment of the vision has been only too apparent. As Fr. José Comblin says: "After Puebla there began the Church of silence. The Church began to have nothing to say." Although the Aparecida conference (2007) slowed down the decline a bit, the Church has still not experienced that "turning around of history" that Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría said was needed in order to heal a society that is gravely ill. The conclusion is that we need to return to being a Church of the poor and to work hard for that. In El Salvador, since the death of Archbishop Romero, the erosion has been clear, as has been the need for ecclesiastical regeneration.