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The Theologian of the poor

Almost fifty years ago, Father Gustavo Gutierrez gave a lecture at the University of Montreal to speak on the topic “The Church and poverty.” It was then, as noted by the same Gutierrez, who began to shape his theological thought related to the special relationship between poverty and the Gospel. That was the beginning of the inner journey that led him to found the so-called “Liberation Theology.”

The now eighty-six years Father Gutierrez remembers his human and theological journey at a conference held recently at the University of St. Paul in Ottawa, Canada, where he received a doctorate Honoris Causa. A well-deserved recognition after decades of conflicts, due, said Gutierrez, the misunderstandings of his thought then finished in the press around the world. He also argues that Liberation Theology was never convicted by any pope.

Yet Liberation theology has had some problems, to be honest, mainly because of the exclusive emphasis given to the social liberation brought by Jesus. Perhaps, as said Gutierrez, who was born in Peru in 1928, he didn’t want in any way exclude the spiritual aspect of Christian redemption, but actually his theology was often interpreted in that way. Probably this is at the origin of the critics of the Holy See, reported in two pontifical documents, one in 1984 and another in 1986, where John Paul II condemned the accepted Marxist elements in Liberation theology.

But for Father Gutierrez is now water under the bridge of, since the Latin American Pope Francis knows very well as the commitment to poor has to be a priority for Christians, not only a commitment to those who lack money, but also to those who are poor in the soul.

Father Gutierrez said that Liberation theology is heavily rooted in the gospel and that the preferential option of the poor– workhorse of the Liberation theology – is what unites our faith to Jesus, as said in 2007 by Benedict XVI himself in Aparecida.

Moreover, Father Gutierrez, who studied Theology to become a priest, makes it clear that poverty is never a good thing, because it destroys the person and also destroys faith. For these two reasons, the Church should give priority to the poor, and for these two reasons Francis says: How I would like a poor church for the poor!

Simone Venturini


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