On Brazil's Front Line, Priest Says Liberation Theology Is Still Basic to Helping the Poor

Article excerpt

LIBERATION theology has lost ground in Brazil during Pope John Paul II's papacy, but many Roman Catholics still live by its principles, advocating social change based on biblical teaching.

"There is a lack of hope, of perspectives for the future," says the Rev. Fernando Altemeyer, a young Catholic priest who works with the jobless on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. "That is my central theological problem."

Fr. Altemeyer's 100,000-person parish, Sao Mateus, encompasses 15 ecclesiastical base communities, or CEBs - neighborhoods organized around leftist political beliefs.

Such neighborhoods mushroomed during the 1970s and today are estimated to number somewhere between 40,000 to 120,000, according to the National Bishops Conference statistics center.

"The CEBs are not concerned with the Vatican's situation," says Altemeyer. "It's very distant. We're more worried about violence, unemployment, daily life. It may seem that the church is just the clergy and theology, but the people are an important force."

His most pressing concern, adds the priest, is 10- and 12-year-old children addicted to crack.

Many clerics who have devoted their lives to social change fear the Vatican and are distressed by its conservatism. …