Dom Helder Camara, 90, a former Brazilian Catholic archbishop and proponent of Liberation Theology who became a noted human rights crusader and champion of agrarian reform, died Aug. 27 at his home in the northeastern city of Olinda, Brazil. The cause of death was not reported.
"Camara was a blessed man who dedicated his life to ecumenical human rights, who fought for peace and solidarity. Brazil will feel his loss," Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said in a statement.
Born in the impoverished northeastern state of Pernambuco, Archbishop Helder Camara entered the seminary at age 14 and was ordained at 22. He served as archbishop in Olinda from 1964 to 1985.
The prelate, branded by some opponents as "the red bishop," was a key proponent of Liberation Theology, which swept through Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. It takes the view of the poor in an attempt to develop a theology of Christian activism to end social injustice.
His term as bishop coincided with Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship. His relentless campaign for agrarian reform, better conditions for Brazil's poor and for an end to torture in prisons drew much criticism from opponents, the military and the government.
"I remember his great capacity to work for the poor . . . when there was a need to contact institutions, people or the government itself in favor of the poor, he would do it," Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, prefect of the Bishops Congregation, said in an interview with Vatican Radio.
"It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Helder Camara. During his whole life, he fought against poverty and for the defense of human rights. The world has lost a great humanist and a free man," French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said in a statement.
Archbishop Helder Camara retired in 1985 but still participated in services at his church Igreja das Fronteiras.
Liberation Theology was once a burning issue in the church. In the 1980s, the Vatican disciplined priests it believed had taken it too far by promoting a violent class struggle or assuming political office.
"The parting of Helder Camara brings great sadness to us," Enrique Dussel, an Argentine philosopher and theologian in Mexico, told Vatican Radio.
"He was short in height but huge in stature when he spoke to the crowds.
"He was one of the first to criticize the dictatorship . . . and he dedicated his life, along with other bishops . . . to the poor in Latin America," Dussel said.