Calvary Episcopal Church

Memphis, Tennessee


The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
October 31, 1999
Volume 44, No. 41

An Obituary . . . No! A Life Worth Reading!
Do you usually read this front page of the Chronicle? As I now write, I cannot help but wonder who reads it. I approach my turn to write the front page as if I am making a parish call on those who take the time to read it. Today's subject: An Obituary. No! The subject is one very significant life.

Do you read obituaries? If you do, The New York Times obit section is compelling. In late August The Times carried the story of the death and the passionate life of The Most Rev. Helder Pessoa Câmara, Archbishop (retired) of the Catholic Archdiocese of Olinda and Recifé, Brazil. His moving obituary also appeared in The Christian Century in early September. It did not make Memphis' Commercial Appeal. And so, as we move closer to one of my most beloved of all seasons, All Saints, today's parish call with you is about Saint Helder.

He was popularly and lovingly called Dom Helder ("Dom" means something close to "your Grace"; the "H" is silent in Brazialian Portuguese). For most of his 90 years, he was deeply committed to his work among the poor. He was a significant writer of international reputation on social justice and land reform. He was jailed but unsuccessfully silenced for his outspoken criticism of Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1960s through the early 1980s. An advocate of liberation theology, Dom Helder was frequently called "the red bishop." To such accusations he replied (and it often was splashed on banners by those who love him):

"When I feed the poor, I am called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I am called a communist."

Dom Helder refused to live in the Archbishop's palace in Recifé; instead he lived in two small rooms in the back of a dilapidated church and monastery in one of the city's slums. That is where I met him when I pushed hard for an audience with Dom Helder. For an hour, a few of us found ourselves in the presence of one of this century's authentic saints. In his time with us, Dom Helder asked some questions that still chill me:

How will you (in the First World) commemorate the year 2000? Will 2000 years of Jesus Christ on this earth have made a difference? What will you be doing to demonstrate that difference??

Dom Helder died in August. He still lives in me. In his face and life I saw and still see the face and life of Jesus. Thank you, oh thank you, Saint Helder. "For all the saints . . . Alleluia!"
~Doug Bailey+

Copyright ©1999-2006