Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
Dom Hélder Câmara was archbishop in Olinda & Recife a very poor region of Brazil in the 1960s into the 1980s. This was the time of the Second Vatican Council and of a harsh dictatorship in his country. He became well know for the commitment he made to his people—-to poor by living a simple life style among them and for working a more just system in his country that would benefit all citizens, rather than favoring a “one percent” who were already very prosperous. —-And he was equally committed to the wealthy, teaching clearly the responsibility we all have for one another in Christian charity and justice. He never stopped challenging a system that is often set up to favor those who already have, over those who are poor. Even the government’s threats, violence and even assignation of several of his associates did not stop his faithful action for all his flock.
He famous said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Catholic faith requires charity, but it also requires concern that systems are just and fair for all God’s children. These are not simply abstract ideals; concrete believers need to make sure these values take root here and now. Archbishop Helder Camara was in no way a Communist. He was someone firmly connected to the Lord Jesus like the vine and branches.
Often people will react to time spent in Camden with a desire to find a “solution.” “What would fix Camden?” is a way to phrase the question. I usually answer quoting St. Francis de Sales, “Nothing is small in the service of God.” We may not solve huge problems, but we can be kind, patient, gentle, good listeners, full of faith and hope. Those “little virtues” do make a difference, for sure. But we can also be glad that some Catholics are actively challenging systems that stack the deck in life. We can see injustice in statistics that tell of a shrinking middle class in this country and a growing concentration of wealth—-and influence—-in a super rich minority of people.