By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, an internationally recognized theologian whose lifework is focused on the poor and the excluded, will receive the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award on Sept. 28 in Davenport.
Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese will present the award to Fr. Gutiérrez during a ceremony that begins at 6:30 p.m. in Christ the King Chapel on the St. Ambrose University campus, Davenport. The event is free and open to the public.
Fr. Gutiérrez, 88, is recognized as a prominent figure in Latin American Catholicism. His 1971 book “A Theology of Liberation” led many to regard him as a principal founder of liberation theology, which seeks to free the poor from unjust economic and social conditions. Liberation theology emphasizes the biblical conviction of a preferential option for the poor.
Until recent years, his advocacy for change in the systems that foster poverty caused the Vatican hierarchy to view him with suspicion. They thought he was using the Catholic faith to promote revolution in Latin America. But Fr. Gutiérrez is on the same page as Pope Francis in advocating for justice for the poor and marginalized. The two, in fact, have met and talked.
Today Fr. Gutiérrez serves as the John Cardinal O’Hara Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, dividing his time between his parish church in Lima and the classroom at Notre Dame in Indiana. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards and is a highly sought speaker.
Father Charles Adam, chaplain and director of campus ministry at St. Ambrose University, learned that Fr. Gutiérrez was speaking in the Chicago area at Dominican University and notified Bishop Amos and Kent Ferris, who heads the Pacem in Terris Coalition.
As a member of the coalition, Fr. Adam didn’t want to miss an opportunity to honor Fr. Gutiérrez now. “His work is relevant today, when we are seeking solutions to the plight of the poor in our own country, taking on important social issues such as job creation, just wages, healthcare and education and overcoming urban violence and racial disparities,” Fr. Adam said.
“This is an internationally known theologian and author, someone who has plugged away when liberation theology was thought to be subversive, someone who was under the microscope. His writings were never condemned, but certainly were scrutinized, and now are being seen as having great value for a church that is envisioned by Pope Francis as a church of mercy, a ‘field hospital,’” Fr. Adam continued. “Liberation theology is a way of walking and living with the poor in imitation of Christ. That’s the philosophy of Pope Francis. They’re both South American priests who served among the poor.”
Bishop Amos sent an invitation to Fr. Gutiérrez to accept the award, which the bishop wrote is “presented by a coalition to honor a person who is active in social justice and peace. Previous recipients have included Martin Luther King, Jr, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Lech Walesa. We would like to honor you as a recipient of the award.”
Fr. Gutiérrez responded that he would accept the award and deeply appreciated the honor.Also appreciative of the honor is Miguel Moreno, the Davenport Diocese’s coordinator of Multicultural Ministry. He was a student of Fr. Gutiérrez in Peru.
“In the 1980s, Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez was known and respected for his academic work and his ministerial service in the poor areas of Lima. So, I was happy (and now lucky) to have participated in his classes and his theological reflections that he offered in different formation centers of the Archdiocese of Lima, Peru. His teaching and life sensitized us to poverty. He said to us: ‘We cannot separate our faith from life. In front of situations of injustice, the believer should say something … our faith has to say something.’ I sincerely hope to have the opportunity to greet him and share memories of his time as a teacher in Lima. I will not ask him to remember his students because that is something that I cannot imagine … or maybe he will surprise me.”
Bio of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez
Birth date: June 28, 1928, Lima, Peru.
Education: B.S., medicine, 1950, National University, Lima, Peru; S.T.L., 1959, Ph.D., 1985, the Universite Catholique de Lyon.
Ordained to the priesthood: 1959.
Major books: “A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation;” “We Drink From Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People;” “On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent;” “The Truth Shall Make You Free, The God of Life;” and “Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ.”
Among his honors: The Legion of Honor from the French government for his tireless work for human dignity and life, and against oppression, in Latin America and the Third World.
— Source: University of Notre Dame, Encyclopaedia Britannica