Joseph Comblin, theologian and advocate for Brazil's poor

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Renowned theologian and advocate of the poor, Joseph Comblin, died on March 27 in Salvador, Brazil, of natural causes. He was 88.

Comblin, a leading exponent of liberation theology, was once a follower and an adviser to the Brazilian bishop, Dom Hélder Câmara, a defender of human rights and the church’s advocate for the poor. Hélder Câmara came to be known as the “Red bishop” during the Brazilian dictatorship.

Born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1923, Comblin was ordained in 1947 and moved to Brazil in 1958. He later worked in Chile, teaching at or leading seminaries in both countries.

The Belgian-born theologian leaves a legacy of a vast body of work in several genres, along with a distinctive model of how to live the theological priestly vocation.

I got to know him during a short course on Theology of Development in 1968 at the Latin American Pastoral Institute in Quito. While there he was informed that the Brazilian military dictatorship was not going to allow him to re-enter the country.

A background paper he had written for Hélder Câmara in preparation for the upcoming meeting of CELAM (Latin American Bishops Conference) at Medellin had been leaked to the press and he was being denounced as a foreign subversive advocating "revolution".

Actually the paper was not a manifesto but a sober discussion of what “revolution,” then widely discussed throughout the continent, might entail for the church. The matter was resolved in a few weeks through discussion between bishops and the military and he returned. Meanwhile, I often heard him clacking away on a manual typewriter in his room.

- Phillip Berryman

FULL OBITUARY Renowned theologian, advocate of poor, dies in Brazil (National Catholic Reporter)

Photo by sagabardon (Flickr)

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