Renowned theologian and advocate of the poor, Joseph Comblin, died March 27 in Salvador, Brazil of natural causes. He was 88.
Comblin, a leading exponent of liberation theology, was once a follower and an adviser to the Brazilian bishop, Dom Hélder Câmara, a defender of human rights and the church’s option for the poor.
In that last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero followed his familiar format, starting with an extended reflection on the scripture texts of the day. He eventually described and denounced incidents of government violence against civilians in recent days.
This had been his practice since he became archbishop three years earlier in the midst of a political crisis: Government troops had ended a weeklong demonstration in a plaza protesting fraudulent elections. Dozens of protestors had been killed. At a pastoral meeting the next day, Romero listened to reports on the violence and then suggested the meeting be suspended and all return to their parishes and be available to provide help to those who needed it. Within days, the murder of his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande triggered a church-state conflict that lasted for months and included the military occupation of the area of Grande’s parish. Given the lack of media able or willing to criticize human rights abuses, Romero’s sermons became a source of alternate news, and a denunciation of the abuse of power.