Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara (Portuguese: [dõ ˈɛwdeɾ peˈsoɐ ˈkɐ̃mɐɾɐ]; February 7, 1909 – August 27, 1999) was a Brazilian Catholic Archbishop. He was the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, serving from 1964 to 1985, during the military regime of the country.

Hélder Câmara

Archbishop-Emeritus of Olinda e Recife
Helder Camara 1974.jpg
SeeOlinda e Recife (Emeritus)
Installed12 March 1964
Term ended2 April 1985
PredecessorCarlos Gouveia Coelho
SuccessorJosé Cardoso Sobrinho
Consecration20 April 1952
by Jaime de Barros Câmara
Personal details
Birth nameHélder Pessoa Câmara
Born(1909-02-07)February 7, 1909
Fortaleza, Brazil
DiedAugust 27, 1999(1999-08-27) (aged 90)
Recife, Brazil
DenominationRoman Catholic
MottoIn manus tuas (into your hands)
Coat of armsHélder Câmara's coat of arms

Câmara was an advocate of liberation theology. He did social and political work for the poor and for Human Rights and democracy during the military regime. Câmara preached for a church closer to the disfavoured people and for non-violence.[citation needed] He is quoted as having said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."[3]

Early life and educationEdit

He was born Hélder Pessoa Câmara in Fortaleza, Ceará, in the poor Northeast Region of Brazil. His father was an accountant and his mother was a primary school teacher.[4] He was educated in local Catholic schools and entered seminary in 1923.


Hélder Câmara in 1984

He was ordained a priest in 1931, with direct authorization of the Holy See over his premature age.[5] Câmara became auxiliary bishop of Rio de Janeiro in 1952. During his first years as a priest he was a supporter of the far-right organization Integralismo, an ideological choice that he later rejected. He also founded two social organizations: the Ceará Legion of Work, in 1931, and the Women Workers' Catholic Union, in 1933. In 1959, he was appointed archbishop of Olinda e Recife.[6]

During his tenure, Câmara was informally called the 'Bishop of the slums' for his clear position on the side of the urban poor.[7] With other clerics, he encouraged peasants to free themselves from their conventional fatalistic outlook by studying the gospels in small groups and proposing the search for social change from their readings. He was active in the formation of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference in 1952, and served as its first general secretary until 1964.[8] In 1959 he founded Banco da Providência in Rio de Janeiro, a philanthropic organization to fight poverty and social injustice by facilitating the contraction of loans by poorer populations.[9]

He attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council and played a significant role in drafting the Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World.[8] On November 16, 1965, a few days before the Council ended, 40 bishops led by bishop Hélder Câmara met at night in the Catacombs of Domitilla outside Rome. They celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document under the title of the Pact of the Catacombs. In 13 points, they challenged their brother bishops to live lives of evangelical poverty: without honorific titles, privileges, and worldly ostentation. They taught that "the collegiality of the bishops finds its supreme evangelical realization in jointly serving the two-thirds of humanity who live in physical, cultural, and moral misery". They called for openness "to all, no matter what their beliefs".[10][11]

Entrance to the branch of the Banco da Providência located in the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral

Under the guidance of archbishop Hélder Câmara, the Roman Catholic church in Brazil became an outspoken critic of the 1964-85 military dictatorship and a powerful movement for social change.[9] Câmara spoke out and wrote about the implications of using violence to repress rebellion resulting from poverty and injustice in other venues than Brazil. Traditionalist Catholics urged the military government to arrest Câmara for his support of land reform[12] and Câmara's colleague, Father Antônio Henrique Pereira Neto, was murdered by unknown conservative forces.[13][14]

A proponent of liberation theology, he was Archbishop of the Diocese of Olinda and Recife from 1964 to 1985, during a period when the country had a series of military rulers. Liberation theology politicised the church's charitable work and brought criticisms that it was encouraging the armed revolutionary struggles that swept Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.[9]

He published Spiral of Violence (1971), a short tract written when the United States was immersed in a still escalating Vietnam War. It is distinctive for linking structural injustice (Level 1 violence) with escalating rebellion (Level 2 violence) and repressive reaction (Level 3 violence). In it, Câmara called on the youth of the world to take steps to break the spiral, saying their elders became addicted to those escalating steps. By the early 21st century, this book had been out of print in the United Kingdom for about 20 years. A scanned version in English is available on the web at the link given below.

He died, aged 90, in Recife.


Câmara had some controversial views, endorsing the position of the Orthodox church that spouses who were abandoned should be allowed to remarry within the Church.[15] He criticized Pope Paul VI's removal of artificial contraception from the purview of Vatican II as "a mistake" meant to "torture spouses, to disturb peace of many homes", "a new condemnation of Galileo",[16] "the death of the Council" and "the practical denial of collegiality".[15] However, by Humanae Vitae, he had changed his mind about contraception, being the first person to telegram the Vatican's Secretariat of State praising the controversial encyclical.[17]

In his famous interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, he also stated that, despite his support for non-violence, he did not oppose violent tactics: "And I respect a lot priests with rifles on their shoulders; I never said that to use weapons against an oppressor is immoral or anti-Christian. But that's not my choice, not my road, not my way to apply the Gospels".[18]

Câmara identified himself as a socialist and not as a Marxist, and while disagreeing with Marxism, had Marxist sympathies. In the Oriana Fallaci interview he stated, "My socialism is special, its a socialism that respects the human person and goes back to the Gospels. My socialism it is justice." He said, concerning Marx, that while he disagreed with his conclusions, he agreed with his analysis of the capitalist society.

Legacy and honorsEdit

Servant of GodEdit

On May 27, 2014, the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Archbishop Antônio Fernando Saburido announced that he was sending a letter to the Vatican requesting the opening of the process of canonization of Archbishop Hélder.[22] The letter was received by the Vatican on February 16, 2015, and less than ten days later, the assent was given by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, with which it received the title of Servant of God on April 7, 2015.[23][24] The opening of the beatification process was called for May 3 at Olinda Cathedral.[25] The installation of the court on that date marked the beginning of the diocesan phase of the beatification process.[26]

in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, Archbishop Hélder is already in the calendar of saints and his feast day is celebrated on August 27.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Dom Hélder Câmara é declarado "Servo de Deus" pela Santa Sé". Archived from the original on 2015-04-13. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  3. ^ Quote: "Quando dou comida aos pobres, chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres, chamam-me de comunista." – cited in Zildo Rocha, Helder, O Dom: uma vida que marcou os rumos da Igreja no Brasil (Helder, the Gift: A Life that Marked the Course of the Church in Brazil), Page 53, Editora Vozes, 2000, ISBN 978-85-326-2213-6. – 208 pages (in Portuguese)
  4. ^ O'Shaughnessy, Hugh (August 8, 2003). "Helder Câmara – Brazil's archbishop of the poor". The Guardian. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  5. ^ Santana, Ana Lucia. «Dom Helder Camara». InfoEscola. Retrieved september 17, 2016. (Portuguese).
  6. ^ Cheney, David M., "Archbishop Helder Pessoa Câmara", The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church, retrieved April 20, 2015
  7. ^ Healy, Barry (July 14, 2009), "'Bishop of the slums' — Dom Hélder Camara and Brazil's church of the poor", Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, retrieved April 20, 2015
  8. ^ a b c O'Connell, Gerard (April 27, 2015), "Call Him a Saint?", America, retrieved April 18, 2015
  9. ^ a b c Bellos, Alex. "Helder Camara" (obit), The Guardian, August 31, 1999
  10. ^ The Pact of the Catacombs (Domitilla); A poor servant Church (PDF), Rome: SEDOS - Documentation and Research Centre, archived from the original (PDF) on April 27, 2015, retrieved April 20, 2015
  11. ^ Sobrino, Jon, SJ (March 24, 2010), "The urgent need to return to being the church of the poor", National Catholic Reporter, retrieved April 20, 2015
  12. ^ Lernoux, Penny (1989), People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism, New York: Viking, p. 341, ISBN 0-670-81529-2
  13. ^ Browne, Malcolm W. (July 12, 1969), "Church Liberals in Argentina Target of Rightists", New York Times, p. 8
  14. ^ "Priest and Civilian Murdered in Brazil", New York Times, p. 7, May 29, 1969
  15. ^ a b Come i progressisti non vinsero al Concilio / Una recensione di Roma, Due del Mattino di Monsignor Hélder Câmara / di Massimo Introvigne, CESNUR Official Website (Italian)
  16. ^ Camara, Helder (2015) [2009], "15a Circular (Reservada) - Roma 24/25.9.1965", in Luiz Carlos Luz Marques; Roberto de Araújo Faria (eds.), Dom Helder Camara Circulares Conciliares (in Portuguese), I, Recifé (PE), Brazil: Companhia Editora de Pernambuco, ISBN 9788578581558, retrieved 9 April 2016
  17. ^ Blessed Paul VI, the Pope who led the Church's barque in troubled waters, Catholic News Agency
  18. ^ Entrevistas históricas: Oriana Fallaci entrevista dom Helder Câmara, Socialista Morena Website (Portuguese)
  19. ^ Nobel Peace Prize nominations. American Friends Service Committee
  20. ^ "På lag med diktaturet" (english: "Cooperating with the dictatorship", NRK 9 March 2017
  21. ^ Modino, Luis Miguel (April 10, 2015), "The initiation of Dom Helder Camara's path to sainthood now has a date", Iglesia Descalza, retrieved April 18, 2015
  22. ^ [http:// www. Archbishop of Olinda sends to Rome request for canonization of Dom Helder Camara], Jornal do Brasil, May 27, 2014, accessed May 28, 2014.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Dom Helder Camara is declared “Servant of God” by the Holy See Accessed April 9, 2015.
  25. ^ and-canonization-of-dom-helder-camara / Notice - Process of beatification and canonization of Dom Helder Camara. Accessed April 9, 2015.
  26. ^ /site/noticia.php?lang=EN&cod=84903
  27. ^ " Norms for the Christian Year ". Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. November 27, 2014. Available at: [1] Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine. Page visited on July 20, 2015.


  • Regan, David. C.S.Sp (2002), Why Are They Poor?: Helder Camara in Pastoral Perspective, Theologie und Praxis, 13, Münster: Lit, ISBN 3-8258-6151-1

External linksEdit

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Carlos Gouvêa Coelho
Archbishop of Olinda e Recife
Succeeded by
José Cardoso Sobrinho