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CENTRAL COMMITTEE 1999 No. 9
WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES EXPRESSES ITS
Helder Camara was born in 1909 in Fortaleza in the North East of Brazil. He was ordained as a priest in 1931 and in 1952 was consecrated auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Rio de Janeiro where, three years later, he became auxiliary archbishop. In 1952 he founded the National Bishops Conference of Brazil, of which he was president for 12 years. In 1964 he was consecrated bishop of the archdiocese of Olinda and Recife, so returning to the North East of Brazil after twenty-eight years of ministry in Rio de Janeiro. He took up office within a few days of the military coup in Brazil. In an interview with the English academic Mary Hall at the end of the seventies, recorded in her book "The Spirituality of Dom Helder Camara", he recalled, "It was a reign of cultural terror. Many of the leaders of Catholic Action were imprisoned, as were militant workers and rural trade unionists, together with members of Congress, writers and journalists. So I had to have the courage to speak out as archbishop of Recife on the importance of freedom, of justice and of truth in that decisive hour."
Helder Camara received international recognition for his commitment to the poor, his preaching of liberation for the people and his work for peace.
Hector Méndez, a pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cuba and a member of the Central Committee, recalled that Dom Helder's identification with the people "gave him first-hand knowledge of the social situation and led him to point clearly to the causes of injustice and poverty. He was also able to reach out beyond the frontiers of the church and his own country so that today he is an example and inspiration in the struggle for a better world, where justice and friendship will prevail."
For Bishop Federico Pagura, a Methodist from Argentina and one of the WCC's eight presidents, Dom Helder "was, and will continue to be one of God's prophets and a pioneer in the social and ecumenical movement in our continent and in the world." Bishop Pagura met Dom Helder Camara personally when he welcomed him to the Methodist seminary in Costa Rica in the early seventies, when the Argentinian bishop was ministering there. He also met Camara several times in Buenos Aires, including at the first performance of the ‘Cantata de Dos Mundos', written by Dom Helder.
Echoing Camara's words on the commitment of Christians to the struggle for justice, Pagura said with some emotion, "We who endeavour to take up the torch and follow in the steps of Jesus Christ must not rest until, in our beloved, ‘vast and alienated' American lands, the walls of injustice, exclusion and falsehood finally fall."
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.