I had the good fortune to meet Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in north-east Brazil, in the 80’s.
He lived with no lock on his door. The incident of the hit-man from the military government, who had come to kill him in the night, being overpowered by his welcoming embrace and deep spirituality, is a legend. He was a man of considerable moral impact! As an aside, he mentioned that while in Australia, away from his diocese, he expected priests at home to be killed and bull-dozers demolish villages, as had happened when he travelled in the past.
Camara would rise at two in the morning to read and write poetry. There was not a square centimetre of his face that was not lined with grief for the sufferings of his people or instantaneously creased by his puckish beneficent smile. His eyes were dark and playful, sunk deeply into dark sockets. He looked physically dead, only an indomitable spirit keeping him from the grave by a whisker.
I can’t remember what he spoke of that day, but the impact of his image and his compassion for human justice remains.
Today I picked up a book of his from a second hand book table. “Spiral of Violence” was written over forty years ago, yet its message is as clear today. It brought to mind the recent “Arab Spring Uprising”.
If true development implies the development of the whole person and of all people, then there is not in fact a single truly developed country in the world…You will find that everywhere the injustices are a form of violence. One can and must say that they are everywhere the basic violence, Violence No.1.
No-one is born to be a slave. No-one seeks to suffer injustices, humiliations and restrictions. A human being condemned to a sub-human situation is like an animal – an ox or a donkey – wallowing in the mud.
Now the egoism of some privileged groups drives human beings into this sub-human condition, where they suffer restrictions, humiliations, injustices; without prospects, without hope, their condition is that of slaves.
This established violence, this violence No.1, attracts violence No.2, revolt, either of the oppressed themselves or of youth, firmly resolved to battle for a more just and human world.
When conflict comes out into the streets, when violence No.2 tries to resist violence No.1, the authorities consider themselves obliged to preserve or re-establish public order, even if this means using force; this is violence No.3. Sometimes they may go even further…in order to obtain information, which may indeed be important to public security, the logic of violence leads them to use moral and physical torture – as though any information extracted through torure deserves the slightest attention!…It is the old Inquisition, with the technology of the nuclear and space travel age at its service.
Let us have the honesty to admit, in the light of the past and, perhaps, here and there, in the light of some typical reactions, that violence No.3 – governmental repression, under the pretext of safeguarding public order, national security, the free world – is not a monopoly of the under-developed countries.
There is not a country in the world which is in no danger of falling into the throes of violence.
With this in mind, I commend to you our work at Oasis with students from all over the world, seeking to live as a community of difference, at peace within itself, and at work for peace in the world.