On this day in 1968, Liberation Theology was endorsed by Latin American Catholic bishops. Liberation theology sprang from the experience of the commumidadas de base, grassroots communities in Latin America in which people applied the liberating message of the gospels to their daily lives as a response to poverty and social injustice. Linguist, historian, and social critic Noam Chomsky calls the movement a restoration of the spirit of early Christianity as "a pacifist ... religion of the poor."
The movement's name comes from Gustavo Gutiérrez's 1971 book, A Theology of Liberation, which emphasized practice over doctrine. He popularized the phrase "preferential option for the poor," meaning that those who are despised, marginalized, or defenseless deserve to have priority in our attention — quite unlike mainstream culture in most first-world countries. In 2013, when Pope Francis became the first Latin American pontiff, he invited then octogenarian Gutiérrez to the Vatican for a private conversation. Their meeting became publicly known and helped shift Roman Catholic policy, placing the poor at the center of Pope Francis's papacy.
What began as a Catholic movement in Latin America has become international and inter-denominational in scope. It expanded to include Black, Hispanic, and Women's liberation theologies, as well as liberation theology in Africa and Asia. Every theology ought to be liberating on all levels to deserve its name.
Here is a Liberation Theologies website where you can access articles, books, videos, biographies, and more.
To Name This Day:
As you consider what this day means to you, choose one of these quotes by people whose lives were immersed in Liberation Theology and let it inform your actions:
"At stake are two different visions of faith, the Church of Caesar, powerful and rich; and the Church of Christ — loving, poor, and spiritually rich."
— Penny Lernoux in People of God
"This is what many Christians are now learning in Latin America. To be followers of Jesus requires that they walk with and be committed to the poor; when they do, they experience an encounter with the Lord who is simultaneously revealed and hidden in the faces of the poor."
— Gustavo Gutiérrez in We Drink from Our Own Wells
"When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist."
— Dom Helder Camara in Helder, the Gift by Zildo Rocha
Reflecting on the nature of Liberation Theology in Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings, Marie Dennis writes: "The church is concerned about the rights of people ... and about life that is at risk. ... The church is concerned about those who cannot speak, those who suffer, those who are tortured, those who are silenced. This is not getting involved in politics. But when politics begins to 'touch the altar,' the church has a right to speak.
"Let this be clear: when the church preaches social justice, equality, and the dignity of people, defending those who suffer and those who are assaulted, this is not subversion; this is not Marxism. This is the authentic teaching of the church."
What is one thing that you can do today that guards someone's dignity and helps free him/her to live fully as God intended? Is there a way to band together with others who share your vision to take further steps that express the lovingkindness and freedom of the Gospels?