Dom Helder Camara

Dom Helder Camara died in Recife, Brazil on 27 August. News of his passing brought back powerful memories to me of Dom Helder's visit to Melbourne in May 1985.
    All who met Dom Helder could not help but be deeply moved by the evangelical power and charisma of this tiny prophet. Gary Tippett wrote the following in the Herald Sun at the time - commenting on Dom Helder's visit to the Fitzroy Parish school where he met children of many nations. " Something beautiful came to the dusty bitumen quadrangle of Sacred Heart Primary school… A stooped and tiny man, barely 1.5 metres high, but somehow a giant in stature. A wizened and ancient bettlenut-brown face fromwhich gentle eyes shone a special kind of light. And as the multicultured children of Sacred Heart sang and danced for him, unashamed tears of hope and joy slid down the many wrinkles of Dom Helder Camara's cheeks"
    It is true that Dom Helder's English was a little hard to follow! He called it 'camarese' . Nonetheless somehow the Spirit spoke through his eyes, his gestures and his whole person radiated a mysterious sense of joy and peace.
    In fact Dom Helder was his own message and words almost seemed superfluous. Well known as a courageous defender of the poor and for a Church closer to the Gospels - Dom Helder often spoke of the madness of the arms race and the in- human conditions of the poor. Fourteen years later the situation seems even worse.
    But his was not a messsage of gloom but of hope. Dom Helder continually drew our attention to the rise of 'Abrahamic minorities' springing up everywhere around us…hoping against all hope.
    What impressed me most deeply was the almost tangible sense that God was very near to him. He possessed a simplicity that was unnerving as much as it was moving to behold. From the moment of his arrival at Tullamarine, in his comings and goings, there was quite an electrifying Franciscan -like quality to the man. He had the mannerism of 'waving' and addressing -the persons, the animals, the roses, the Blessed Sacrament , statues of Our Lady - all who passed his way. One felt one was in the presence of someone who KNEW- a brother to all creation who was rejoicing in the sheer loveliness of God's gifts.
    Those who had the privilige of celebrating with Dom Helder at a Eucharist will know what a poignant experience this was and how , quite naturally, Dom Helder, at the moment of Consecration, would cry tears of hope and joy. A first reaction of 'what's happening here?' soon passed over into a realization that what was happening was a priviliged moment in one's life. An old man who had suffered much on behalf of the outcast and poor for decades , defender of countless victims broken in body and soul was in touch with the real broken body of Jesus in the Eucharist. One could feel the linkage but I'm not sure any one present could really adeqauately describe the experience. It was a moment of Grace to be there.
    Dom Helder lived the last fourteen years in Recife - and not without suffering. The continuing failure of society and sometimes even the Church, to take bold steps to help the poor, wounded him. But Dom Helder was above all a man in love - in love with people especially the poor, in love with the Church for all its frailty and in love with God's creation.
    Dom Helder 's gift to Austraslia was himself. He is a true prophet to us pointing constantly to the One who awaits in the future and who gifts is in such surprising ways if only we had the 'eyes ' of a Helder Camara.

- Mark O'Connor fms

The Dom Helder Home Page
Igreja Nova (English)

1:36pm 6/9/99

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