We join the world in celebrating the 95th birthday of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, who ideas awakened a continent and inspired hundreds of solidarity and justice movements, including our own.
By Dean Dettloff, Animator for Central Ontario
Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada joins many around the world in celebrating the 95th birthday of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, which fell on June 8. Fr. Gutiérrez is one of the most important theologians of the last century and has significantly shaped our movement. The strong faith of the urban poor of Lima, where Gutiérrez was born in 1928, inspired him to call on the church to advocate for the “preferential option for the poor.” That phrase that is now at the centre of our work.
Gutiérrez was instrumental in a famous 1968 meeting in Colombia where the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM, now one of our partners) committed to being a church of the poor. By then, they were already using the language of liberation.
In 1971, Gutiérrez published A Theology of Liberation, which helped launch the liberation theology movement. Gutiérrez called the book, “a theological reflection born of the experience of shared efforts to abolish the current unjust situation and to build a different society, freer and more human.” Fifty years later, Gutiérrez’ analysis remains relevant for our understanding of the causes of poverty and our work.
Liberation theology has had a complicated relationship with the Vatican. In the 1980s, Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote two instructions clarifying the Vatican’s position on aspects of liberation theology. But Gutiérrez, who was not among the censured liberation theologians, was never silenced.
More recently, Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, has worked to repair the relationship between the Vatican and Gutiérrez and other liberation theologians like Leonardo Boff, Ernesto Cardenal, and Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.
“Today we old people laugh about how worried we were about liberation theology,” Pope Francis told a group of Jesuits in Panama in 2019. He recalled concelebrating Mass with Gutiérrez after the then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Müller had introduced him as a friend!
Greeting Gutiérrez on his 90th birthday in 2018, Pope Francis had thanked him for his way of “questioning the conscience of each one, so that no one remains indifferent to the drama of poverty and exclusion.”
Gustavo Gutiérrez and our movement
Development and Peace, too, thanks Gutiérrez for his challenging, inspiring ideas. Thanks to them, the poorest of Latin America, to whom we always been close, have built an impressive grassroots Christian movement, often supported by us. This movement has contributed to freeing the people from great dictatorships and creating more democratic states where the poor have a strong Catholic voice.’ ideas Many other Latin American institutions and collectives have been directly inspired by. Through them, we have been very close to that continent’s poorest people.
Gutierrez has also left a lasting impression on many members of Development and Peace. In 1991, Sylvia Skrepichuk, a member in Ontario, took a course at the Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas on a solidarity trip with a group of 8, including Carl Hétu our Executive director, to Peru. During the course, she asked Gutierrez what she should do. He listed three things: learn about the situation in Latin America; take on option for the poor; visit the people of Peru and return to Canada to tell their story and advocate for justice. Later, Skrepichuk heard Gutierrez speak in Toronto, where he added to his answer, saying she should focus on the situation of women. In fact, Skrepichuk, explains, “it was the experience in Peru, Gustavo’s insistence on the need for context to ground theology and an invitation from the Toronto Diocesan Council to join an educators’ group that led to me to join Development and Peace.”
When our organization was being founded in 1967, Gutiérrez was teaching in Montreal. He recalled that time fondly in 2014, when he received an honorary doctorate from St. Paul University in Ottawa.
In our 25th anniversary souvenir book, Gutiérrez had written that our proximity “with the poor countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America” had “been amply demonstrated.”
Long may our movement continue living up to his assessment, informed and transformed through dialogue with the Global South.
¡Feliz cumpleaños atrasado, Gustavo! ¡Que cumplas muchos más!