On February 15, radicals throughout Latin America marked the 45th anniversary of the death of the Colombian revolutionary and catholic priest Camilo Torres.
Torres, an outspoken critic of the Colombian regime, had joined the fledgling guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN) in 1966 and was killed soon after in an encounter with the Columbian military. Torres’ writings and death had a shattering impact in Latin America and was the prelude to the birth of liberation theology.
Torres, who witnessed the plight of the poor in Columbia, wrote that “true Christian love cannot exist in a master-slave relationship. Only by changing the capitalist structures of society can we enable men to practice Christian love. Christians cannot in conscience be non-political.”
“It is the duty of every catholic to be a revolutionary,” added Torres, “and the first duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution.
“When the state uses violence against the people, including economic violence, then the people have the right to respond with violent action.”
Two years after Torres’ death, the catholic bishops’ conference in Medellín, Colombia committed itself to being a ‘Church of the poor’. Whereas the church had played a largely reactionary role in the history of Latin America, Christians became prominent in the various struggles for liberation. Theologians began to interpret the Gospels through the eyes of the poor, creating a theology of liberation. At its heart, liberation theology asserts the Christian view that Christ’s mission was the spiritual, political, economic and social liberation of man from sin in all its forms.
Liberation theology, while greatly weakened by censure from the Vatican, still has an important influence among the poor in Latin America and Asia. It has had small impact in Europe and almost none in Ireland.
While it was the creation of catholics, liberation theology has become an inter-denominational movement, with adherents in various protestant churches. Although books have been written by muslim and jewish scholars, it largely remains a Christian phenomenon.
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