Report: Sainthood process opened for Hélder Câmara

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Just weeks after official announcement of the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Vatican has reportedly given a green light for the beginning of the sainthood process for another Latin American bishop known for radically calling on the church to stand with the poor.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints has reportedly approved the start of the path to sainthood for the late Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara, a key Catholic leader during his country's military dictatorship who was known as the "bishop of the slums."

Reporting of the opening of the process, which will begin with investigations in Câmara's diocese of Olinda and Recife in Brazil, was made Monday by the Italian newspaper Avvenire, which is published by the Italian bishops' conference.

According to the Avvenire report, Cardinal Angelo Amato, an Italian who leads the Vatican congregation, signed a letter Feb. 25 allowing the beginning of the process.

The letter reportedly gives current Olinda and Recife Archbishop Fernando Saburido authority to begin the sainthood process, which starts with the diocesan investigations before formal presentation of Câmara's cause to the Vatican. The entire process for sainthood, should it be successful, can take decades or even centuries.

Câmara -- who is known worldwide for saying: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." -- was head of the Brazilian diocese from 1964-1985. He died in 1999.

Like Romero, the Brazilian archbishop was a proponent of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ did not just seek liberation from sin but every type of oppression.

Made a bishop by Pope Paul VI toward the end of the Second Vatican Council, Câmara had participated in many of the discussions of the council with other Latin America priests and prelates. He is also known for his contributions to the pan-continental Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, known commonly as CELAM.

Romero, who was archbishop of San Salvador during the bloody and tension-filled time leading up to his country's 1979-1992 civil war, was shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980.

The official Vatican process of sainthood for the Salvadoran prelate had lingered for years until Francis' election in March 2013. Romero is to be beatified May 23.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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